It's official: Dade commissioners at their regular March meeting Thursday night held the first reading of an ordinance to allow on-premise sales of alcoholic beverages in Dade County. Liquor licenses may be issued as early as April, after the second reading at the next commission meeting.
"It's a good first draft," Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley told the county attorney, Robin Rogers, who presented the 28-page ordinance at the March 2 meeting.
Rogers unveiled the long-awaited ordinance before an unusually full commission room, the audience swelled by a group designated "Concerned Dade Citizens Who Voted Yes to Distilled Spirits." Forty-plus attended the March meeting. Spokesman for the group Greg Foster told the commission it had been long enough since the November referendum saying yes to liquor by the drink that: "Something should happen to justify that you voted."
Concerned citizen Greg Foster shows the Commission people how many Dade Countians had turned out in support of liquor by the drink. "I'm not into politics," he said. "I'm into craft beer."
Something did. Attorney Rogers outlined the high points of the new law, which is technically not a new ordinance but an amended version of the old one drafted to govern package sales of beer in wine, legal in Dade since 1981 (see preceding Planet articles on history of package sales). Here are a couple of them:
Sales of beer and wine will be permitted at restaurants throughout the county, subject to Health Department standards as to adequate sanitation arrangements onsite. Beer and wine sales will not be limited, as specified by the 2015 resolution of the commission, to areas served by sewers and close to the interstate highway. Thus a proposed new pizza restaurant on Lookout Mountain should in fact be able to obtain a license too sell beer and wine.
Sales of distilled spirits, however, will be restricted to areas within two miles of the interstate highway. The rationale? "They [the county commissioners] didn't want distilled spirits in the more remote areas of the county," explained Robin Rogers.
(Rogers did not use the word "honky-tonk," but in earlier discussions several of the county commissioners had; thus, presumably, the restriction.
Restaurants that sell alcohol must be a certain minimum distance away from schools and churches, 100 yards minimum for beer and wine, double that for distilled spirits. Further restrictions include a 60-40 ratio for food-to-alcohol sales for restaurants. The Trenton city ordinance that has permitted on-site consumption of beer and wine since 2010 already has such a requirement.
And speaking of Trenton, Mayor Alex Case addressed the county commissioners on the subject of changing the city ordinance to match the county's, allowing distilled spirits as well as fermented and malt beverages in restaurants in town. He had earlier thought that the county referendum, since it included Trenton voters, would suffice to allow liquor within city limits, he said, but had later learned that was only so if it could be ascertained that the majority of city voters had voted yes in the November election.
Now, said Case, he had learned from the Dade Board of Elections that that number could not be isolated from the poll results. "The database for the election wasn't geared that way," he said. Thus the city must hold a referendum of its own in November, said the mayor.
What about package sales of distilled spirits? Probably not happening any time soon, said Robin Rogers, queried after the meeting: It would require a petition signed by 35 percent of county voters. So to more progressive Alabama or Tennessee Dade's drinkers of bourbon and gin must continue to go.
Chris Stone, whose Lookout Mountain Pizza Company aspires to be the first (legal) server of beer and wine in the unincorporated county, was at the meeting and said he was pleased with the ordinance pending a chance to read it through. He didn't as yet have a target opening date for his brick-oven pizza business but said, "I'm shooting for April."