It could be the second time is the charm for removing the 300-foot distance requirement between churches and schools and establishments that sell beer.
McMinnville officials voted 5-2 on Tuesday night to delete the sentence “No sale or distribution of beer shall be at places within 300 feet of any school, public or private, kindergarten or church” from city code.
Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman, and Aldermen Ryle Chastain, Everett Brock and Steve Harvey voted in favor of removing the 300-foot barrier. Aldermen Jimmy Bonner and Mike Neal voted to keep the distance restriction.
The item was put on the agenda at the request of Chastain, who says he has received numerous requests to revisit the issue.
“Basically, since the election, I have been asked by many people in the community, both downtown business owners, city residents and county residents, individuals that don’t live in McMinnville, to bring this up again,” Chastain said. “I realize there are some fears and concerns in the community about it being brought back up, but part of me feels those fears are predicated on misinformation.”
Chastain says some of those fears come from alarmists.
“There are some people out there who would have you believe if this measure passes that beer stores and bars are going to open on every corner in the community, especially next to all the churches and schools. That’s not true,” he said.
When questioned by Neal if this has anything to do with the desire to sell beer at Park Theater, Chastain stated, “This has nothing to do with Park Theater.”
Neal voiced his disapproval for the measure being brought up again less than a year after it failed the first time.
“I’m highly disappointed someone would bring this up at this time and create such division, once again, when we went through this six to nine months ago and put the community through this turmoil again,” said Neal. “I think the citizens are, for lack of a better word, tired of hearing about it. To bring it up again, I think it’s totally disrespectful after what we’ve already been through.”
Harvey says he too has been contacted by people who want the distance removed.
“I have had far more people contact me in support of deleting this than I have in support of keeping it since I’ve been elected,” Harvey said. “The thing that made me believe we need to do this is the situation with the old New York Grill building. We’ve got a situation there where the business had a beer permit and it closed down. Now, Security Federal is sitting there holding the note on this building trying to sell it and a church moved in two doors down. Now, there can’t be a beer permit there. Not ever. To me, that’s unfair.”
Located within 300 feet of the old New York Grill building is Oasis.
City attorney Tim Pirtle says Oasis may not meet the legal definition of a church because to be designated as one, the owner of the property has to file an application with the state declaring the property’s intended use as religious in order to be considered for tax-exempt status.
“I haven’t recently researched the current status of any property with regard to if such an application had been made or not made,” Pirtle said. “The last time this issue arose, at that point and time, there had not been an application by the owner of any property on Main Street to be classified primarily as religious or education uses. Now that application could be filed tomorrow, such as an application for a beer permit can be filed tomorrow.”
Calling a building a church is not enough, says Pirtle.
“You have to have a rational basis for deciding what is a church and what is a school. Calling it a church or a school isn’t enough. That would be an arbitrary and capricious criteria for the beer board to deny a beer permit application, in my opinion,” he said.
Bonner voiced a fear of beer joints popping up if the distance is removed.
“I think a lot of people want this changed so they can come here and put in a beer joint,” said Bonner. “Our town was paved to make it look good to put businesses down here, not beer joints. I remember a time when skid row was down on Spring Street with two beer joints there. I remember growing up and listening to people complain we needed to get rid of that because all they were doing is causing trouble. Well, finally, they got rid of it and people were happy.”
At a Standard political forum during his campaign, Brock expressed his opinion the distance requirement should remain. On Tuesday night, he cited reasons for changing his stance.
“There are people who are asking about places, but they don’t want to take the risk of finding out they might be next door to a church, an official church. At the time, I said let’s just leave it alone because there is nobody asking. Now, there are people asking. Another thing, by state law, there is no distance requirement on liquor.”
Beer is governed locally by cities and counties. However, liquor is governed by the state and it has no proximity restriction.
The city board’s decision came after listening to several members of the audience with opposing viewpoints on the issue.
Among those against removing the 300-foot distance restriction was Tony Lawrence, minister at Bybee Branch Church of Christ, who is disappointed the measure is back so soon and believes removing the distance would be harmful.
“I’m extremely, extremely, disappointed this is being brought up again this soon,” said Lawrence. “It’s hard to tell you how badly we take this. This is a slap in the face to the churches and the schools. You can say you don’t think so, but we feel it is and we feel very strongly about it. The truth is, we are not going to go away. If it does pass here, we’ll have to explore what other options we have, like referendums or things such as that. We believe this is detrimental to our community.”
Among those in favor of removal was Joe Harvey, who believes requiring a distance restriction is unfair to businesses.
“I’m here in support of repelling the 300-foot rule,” said Harvey. “I believe it’s unfair to business owners, potential business owners, and the community as a whole. I know there are other business owners who are also in favor of it. I’m just here as a friendly face in support of moving forward as a community.”
Being an ordinance, the measure requires one more passing read before the board. The next regular session is June 9.