Liquor store denial looms

ALBANY, Ga. -- As hundreds of area citizens filled the Government Center, many voicing either support or opposition to a proposed liquor store in East Albany, a sharply divided City Commission voted late Tuesday night to move forward with a liquor application denial hearing to justify stripping APH Enterprises of its ability to sell liquor in Albany.

For more than an hour, commissioners heard from representatives of various groups that either supported or opposed of businessman Alex Rowe's plan to build a Jax Liquor Store at 301 E. Oglethorpe Blvd. in proximity to Albany State University and Union Baptist Church.

At the end of discussion, Commissioner Bob Langstaff, Mayor Pro-tem Christopher Pike and Mayor Willie Adams voted to grant Rowe the license, while Commissioners Jon Howard, Dorothy Hubbard, Roger Marietta and Tommie Postell voted against it.

Under existing ordinances, a vote to deny a license triggers a denial hearing at which city officials will present evidence to support the commission's position and Rowe's representatives will present evidence in support of his license.

The crux of the issue facing commissioners is how to apply a legal standard -- its code of ordinances -- to what several on the commission described as a moral issue.

The commission heard from both City Attorney Nathan Davis, Albany Police Capt. Ryan Ward and Code Enforcement Officer Nathanial Norman that Rowe's proposed business complies with all of the city's regulations and standards when determining eligibility for a liquor license.

But those speaking on behalf of ASU and the religious community Tuesday urged commissioners to consider the societal implications of allowing the business to operate at that particular street corner.

"There is no more flammable combination than alcohol and young people," ASU President Everette Freeman told commissioners. "It is not in the community's best interest to allow this type of business in this location."

Those speaking in support of the measure, including local attorney Christopher Cohilas, who is Rowe's attorney, asked commissioners to consider the economic development implications that will come from having a new business in East Albany that will pay what they say will be an average of $108,000 per year in sales taxes while employing five to 10 new workers.

"APH enterprises has met each and every objective standard set forth by the city," Cohilas said. "There is a problem with economic growth in that part of town and here is a man willing to invest his own money to pay taxes and create jobs."

The Rev. Lorenzo Heard of the Greater 2nd Mt. Olive Baptist Church countered that the commission's priority should be investing in people more than property while providing meaningful economic development in East Albany.

"If you want to buy shoes, we can't buy any in East Albany. You can find a few pair of tennis shoes at Rose's, but that's it," Heard said. "But if you want liquor, there are three stores not three miles from this location. ... There is no shortage, in this town, of a place to get a drink."

Before the vote, Adams called the discussion a "no-win" situation, saying that voting to deny the application would put the city at risk for a lawsuit, but that commissioners also have an obligation to heed the will of their constituents.

"We, as leaders, have a fiduciary responsibility to the city not to pay out money we should not spend," Adams said. "I have heard a lot of very dear friends tonight speak eloquently and passionately on this issue, but there is a risk that litigation will ensue."