January 20, 2021 10:29:51 AM
Starkville aldermen took another key step Tuesday toward granting another exception to its code of ordinances that would clear the way for a prospective business to locate downtown.
The board held its first of two public hearings at its regular meeting at City Hall to allow "brewpubs" -- defined as establishments that brew and sell their own beer, light wine and light spirits -- to operate without requiring food to account for at least 25 percent of their gross sales.
Aldermen are considering the change to clear the way for John Higgins, owner of Tupelo-based Spring Street Cigars, to operate a cigar lounge and brewpub in the former Mugshots building on Main Street, which sits in the city's designated Leisure and Entertainment District. The board has already granted cigar lounges an exception from the city's anti-smoking ordinance -- which disallows smoking in most public spaces in the city.
By state law, beer (up to 8 percent alcohol by weight), light wine (up to 5 percent alcohol by weight) and light spirits (up to 4 percent alcohol by weight) are coded and governed separately from "alcoholic beverages."
Higgins told aldermen Tuesday his Starkville spot, the business' fifth planned location, would house 3.5-barrel beer brewing equipment. The former restaurant doesn't have kitchen equipment, he said, which made serving food impossible from the outset.
Even with the ordinance exception, brewpubs could technically sell food.
"Brewpubs could sell food," City Attorney Chris Latimer told The Dispatch. "They just don't have to chin up to that 25-percent bar."
However, Mayor Lynn Spruill said Spring Street Cigars could not. An establishment that allows smoking cannot sell food, even with the ordinance changes that would apply to Higgins' business.
The intent, she said, is to craft an ordinance specific enough to where it would open the door for other cigar lounges or brewpubs who might want to locate in the Leisure and Entertainment District without allowing restaurants and bars to skirt the anti-smoking or food sales requirements.
"The idea is that brewpubs can go with smoking or they can go with eating, but they cannot do all three," Spruill told The Dispatch.
All seven aldermen were present at Tuesday's meeting, either in person or by phone. Two, Ward 1's Ben Carver and Ward 4's Jason Walker, expressed they were "leaning toward" voting for the ordinance change, while others gave no indication either way.
"I'm kind of torn on this one, to be honest," Carver said. "I'd say I'm leaning that way, 51 percent (toward voting for the change). ... I'm very interested in this from an economic development standpoint. I think it's going to be good for downtown."
Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn said he shared concerns about opening the doors for other restaurants and bars to allow smoking, but he said he would speak more on how he would vote after the board's second public hearing on the ordinance change set for Feb. 2.
No citizen spoke in opposition of the rule change on Tuesday.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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