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Liquor store hearing planned

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Albany City Commission will have a second public hearing later this month to allow further discussion of an alcohol permit decision that could allow for the construction of a liquor store and check-cashing business near Albany State.

Pitting what some on the commission say is a moral concern versus a legal ordinance, the board took no formal action on the license request.

Local businessman Alexander Rowe is attempting to obtain an alcohol license to put a Jax liquor store at the corner of Oglethorpe Boulevard and Broadway Street. The 6,000-square-foot facility would also serve as a check-cashing facility, according to his lawyer.

Tuesday, the commission heard from Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson, who explained his department's process in measuring the proximity of the proposed site to Albany State University and to a local church.

Under the city's ordinances, establishments that sell liquor have to be at least 200 yards away from any school, college or university and at least 100 yards away from a church.

According to Tilson, who said he used the city's Geographic Information System to measure the distances, the shortest distance from the nearest ASU property line was 868 feet, which means that Rowe meets the requirement by 268 feet.

The nearest church, according to Tilson, is closer at 696 feet away, but is still at least 96 feet past the boundary.

The measurements were made adhering to a November 2007 policy change adopted by the commission which required code enforcement to measure using the nearest public route of travel, rather than merely through a straightline method or "as the crow flies."

Legally, the proposed store meets the city's regulations, Tilson and City Attorney Nathan Davis said.

Despite that, commissioners appear unwilling to allow the store to locate in that particular location because of its perceived proximity to ASU and a church.

"The liquor store deal with me is a sour deal because of the college and the churches," Tommie Postell, a commissioner, said. "It's just not a good idea to have that type of place in that location."

Rowe, who has been at each of the meetings where commissioners have discussed the issue, spoke through his attorney to the commission Tuesday. Among other things, the lawyer asked the commission to consider the tax implications of allowing the business to operate.

"There are communities outside of Dougherty County that do not allow the sale of liquor and because of that there is a natural market that this community can make tax dollars off of," Rowe's attorney, Christopher Cohilas, said. "Communities like Tift County and Worth County do not allow the sale of liquor, so it creates a natural market here for this type of business."

Commissioners also heard from ASU representative Clifford Porter, who was asked about the university's intentions for the Ray Charles Fine Arts building.

Echoing statements made by ASU President Everette Freeman the week before, Porter told commissioners that the master plan called for construction of the facility near 300 E. Ogelthorpe Blvd., which is just across the four-lane highway from the proposed site of the liquor store.

If ASU bought that land before the store were to buy its property on East Oglethorpe, the store would then be too close to be granted a license -- a move suggested, tongue in cheek, at last month's night meeting by Albany Mayor Willie Adams. Adams was not at Tuesday's meeting.