May 3, 2014 11:04:41 PM
Starkville aldermen are expected to discuss scheduling public hearings on lowering the city's alcohol sales restrictions Tuesday, a move that could allow on-premises sales and consumption to more business parcels.
Currently, businesses cannot sell beer or light wine if it is located within 250 feet of the nearest point of any church, school, child care facility or funeral home. That distance is measured with a straight line, rather than routes of pedestrian travel.
The city proposes amending the rule to follow state statute, Miss. Code Ann. 67-1-51(3), which allows for sales beyond 100 feet of the premises, provided they are both zoned either commercial or industrial. Churches and funeral homes may also waive the distance requirements, the proposal states.
Traditional single-family neighborhoods zoned R-1 are granted increased protection from alcohol sales as the change increases the distance requirement to 400 feet in non-commercial and non-industrial areas.
Starkville Main Street Association and Convention and Visitors Bureau boards both support the potential change, as well as Ward 5 Alderman Scott Maynard.
Due to the physical placement of churches and businesses in the Main Street, Russell Street and Miss. Highway 182 corridors, the potential change could unlock new retail opportunities, thereby increasing
Starkville's sales tax and 2 percent food and beverage tax receipts as the city continues branding itself as a restaurant destination for out-of-town diners.
It is crucial to secure the new alcohol ordinance, Maynard said, because incoming restaurants are expected to dot the Russell Street corridor.
"Going to 100 feet will allow developers to build on specific corners (of Russell Street) with mixed-use retail," he said. "I think the big fear in the past has been that big bars are going to open up. The reality is we haven't had a significantly large bar open in Starkville in a very long time. I think the citywide trend -- sit-down, high-end restaurants -- will open on Russell Street, mainly because of developments associated with the Mill at MSU project."
"We look at this as an economic development issue because the need for this comes from the growing requests and inquiries from restaurants about locating downtown. We're not talking about nightclubs; we're talking traditional restaurants who want to locate to Starkville," Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Jennifer Gregory said. "Our restaurants are the downtown anchors and provide huge sales tax benefits. Right now, there are specific restaurants and developments looking to come here and cannot because there's no more available space because of the 250-foot rule. We have property owners holding onto parcels ideal for restaurants, but they have to have this legislation. People are sacrificing their own money while waiting.
"When you begin to inventory the churches -- not just the big ones, but the small, community centers located in our business corridors -- it's a lot of locations," she added. "The change isn't radical -- it takes us, in an economic development mindset, to where the rest of the state is."
One staunch opponent, Ward 6 Alderman and Vice Mayor Roy A. Perkins, to the alcohol rule change emerged shortly after the city's agenda was published Friday. Perkins, who adamantly opposed allowing Sunday alcohol sales, said lowering the minimum alcohol sales distance could detract or prevent worshipers from attending church services.
"There needs to be as much separation of space and distance as possible between churches and drinking establishments. We as a community need to protect the sanctity and standards of the churches in our community," he said. "Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins. This is enough justification for us, as a city, to keep liquor, wine and beer as far away from God's kingdom as possible.
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch
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