0

Liquor store fate tabled

Albany State University President Everette Freeman listens as Commissioner Roger Marietta, left, reads through a request for an alcohol license Tuesday. Freeman is opposing the development of a liquor store at the corner of Oglethorpe Boulevard and Radium Springs Road.

Albany State University President Everette Freeman listens as Commissioner Roger Marietta, left, reads through a request for an alcohol license Tuesday. Freeman is opposing the development of a liquor store at the corner of Oglethorpe Boulevard and Radium Springs Road.

ALBANY, Ga: -- Following much discussion, a divided Albany City Commission voted to table a vote that would pave the way for construction of a liquor store near Albany State University.

The 4-2 vote to table came after a dispute arose over how city officials measured the distance between the proposed store site at the corner of Oglethorpe Boulevard and Radium Springs Road across from a Woodalls gas station and property owned by ASU.

The motion to table, which was supported by Commissioners Jon Howard, Dorothy Hubbard, Mayor Pro Tem Christopher Pike and Mayor Willie Adams with Commissioners Roger Marietta and Bob Langstaff dissenting, was to allow Code Enforcement Director Mike Tilson to more clearly show commissioners how he measured the distance.

Under the city's code of ordinances, a package store cannot be granted a license if it is within 100 yards of a church or 200 yards of a college or university. According to Tilson, the proposed site of the store meets all city codes and regulations.

Albany State President Everette Freeman, who, along with the pastor of nearby Union Baptist Church, has signed a letter in opposition to construction of the business, told commissioners Tuesday night he believes existing university property -- ASU's Early Learning Center -- is located within the 200 yard boundary and was not considered when the measurement was considered.

The applicant, Alexander Rowe, said he simply wished to expand his business to keep up with other liquor stores in town, and the selection of the site came after years of searching.

"I'm just trying to expand my business so I can stay competitive," he told commissioners, before pointing to the commission's approval of Beef O'Brady's -- a restaurant that sells liquor by the drink -- which is next to Darton College.

In defense of that move, Commissioner Roger Marietta, who is a professor at Darton, asked Tilson if that restaurant was compliant with measurement restrictions. Tilson said it was.

Even before the measurement issue came up, commissioners appeared deeply divided on the issue.

Commissioner Dorothy Hubbard said in this case, there was a difference between what was "legally right and what is morally right," and called for the city's alcohol ordinances to be reviewed.

"Some things are legally right and some things are morally right. We're caught here between a rock and hard place," she said. "We're spending millions on public safety to deal with crime, of which alcohol is a major factor in many cases ... If we do have to pass this, I'd ask that we review our ordinances and regulations."

Pike said while many may not approve of the site, there is no legal justification not to approve it.

"I'm not necessarily in favor of putting a liquor store on that property; quite frankly, I believe there is a better use for that property," Pike said. "But I believe he (Rowe) has followed the regulations, and I think we shouldn't punish a business for us not having the foresight to regulate distances from universities and churches."

Rowe is planning to demolish the old China Palace restaurant that currently sits on that corner and build a 6,000 square foot package store.

In defense of his request, Rowe said that there are other establishments selling alcohol mere feet from where he plans to build.

"Three of the corners (of the intersection where he intends to locate) have alcohol being sold now, two retail and one consumption, and those have licenses that have obviously been granted," Rowe said. "If ASU students intend to drink, they have the opportunities to do so right now, without my business being built."

Also entering into the discussion was the future site of the Ray Charles Fine Arts Building, which Freeman said had long been planned to be built on the south corner of Oglethorpe and Radium Springs which would put it directly across Oglethorpe from the liquor store.

Last year, ASU received funding for the planning and design of the center from the General Assembly, but Freeman said the University has not yet bought the property.

Similarly, Rowe said that he has not yet bought the property where he intends to build his liquor store.

After the discussion, the commission voted 4-2 to table consideration until their October 5 work session. The earliest a vote could be called is if the commission were to call a special called meeting immediately after their work session, otherwise, the license application won't be considered again for a vote until the last Tuesday in October.