Thursday's Dade County Commission Meeting Promises More Conflict Over Alcohol Ordinance

The regular monthly meeting of the Dade County Commission is at 6 p.m. this Thursday, April 6, and even for those who (unaccountably) do not find local democracy spellbinding, the agenda looks fairly action-packed.

On the lineup are "Ordinance No. 04-06-17, Amendment to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Ordinance," and Resolution R-07-17, which states as its purpose establishing fees for the licensing of distilled spirits by the drink.

Then there is also listed an appearance by a representative of "Concerned Dade Citizens Who Voted Yes to Distilled Spirits," a citizens group formed to prod a seemingly recalcitrant county commission into executing the will of the voters as expressed in the November referendum.

The "Amendment" part of the alcoholic beverage control ordinance item is misleading: As explained at last month's meeting by the county attorney, Robin Rogers, it is so called because rather than draft a new ordinance to govern liquor by the drink as legitimized by the referendum, he instead chose to alter Dade's existing ordinance governing package sales of beer and wine--legal since 1981--to cover on-site consumption in county restaurants.

But if the commissioners and the attorney have not in fact "amended the amendment" since last month, when it was first read, and instead adopt the ordinance as drafted, they will in effect swat down the only prospective applicant for a liquor license, Chris Stone. Stone hopes to open his Lookout Mountain Pizza Company this month selling beer and wine with his gourmet pizza. But the ordinance as written insists on a 60-seat minimum, and Stone's place is half that size.

Furthermore, the ordinance as it stands would forbid Lookout Mountain's award-winning, upscale restaurant, The Canyon Grill, from serving mixed drinks, restricting such sales to areas next to the interstate.

In March, The Planet published a letter to the commission from Johnny Holland, owner of the Canyon Grill, protesting the ordinance's hindrance of local business. Now Chris Stone has written his own protest to the commissioners, which he, too, has shared with The Planet. The citizens group, which was also represented at last month's meeting, was formed in support of Stone's small restaurant, but the soft-voiced Stone has not formerly spoken for himself.

In his letter, Stone chides the commissioners for adopting an ordinance biased toward large, out-of-town restaurant chains while discriminating against and "handcuffing" small businesses like his, as well as for imposing their will over that of the voters. He asks them to scrap the existing ordinance and come up with something fairer. His letter is appended in its entirety to the bottom of this article.

Finally, the agenda for the Thursday night includes "Draft Northwest Georgia Bikeway and Pedestrian Multi-Use Trails Feasibility Study Info," a subject hitherto untapped in Dade County. The Planet will report on particulars as to that interesting item as they unveil themselves.

Again, the meeting starts at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The public is welcome.

Here is Chris Stone's letter to the Dade County Commission: In May of 2016 I purchased the building located at 203 Scenic Highway. It was originally an old garage built in 1956. Before I took possession of the property, it was purchased by a couple from Atlanta and renovated over a period of time starting in 2006 and eventually opened as The Art Box Art Gallery, which only lasted a few years before closing.

I’m sure all of you know I’m in the process of opening a pizza restaurant in this building. I’m not opening just a “Pizza Joint in the County” as it has been referred to by some of the commissioners. I’m bringing to the community something I think is very special, especially for a community the size of New Salem and greater Dade County.

I’m opening a wood-fired Neapolitan (Naples, Italy) style pizzeria. The pizza dough takes 32 hours to make before it's ready to be cooked in a wood -ired oven, at temperatures around 1000 degrees. The oven was built in Italy and imported to the United States. Pizzas are cooked in about 90 seconds on average and are made with high-quality ingredients. In fact, the flour I will be using is imported form Naples.

I’m reaching out to you today, asking for your decision in the upcoming final alcohol ordinance, to be non-personal, non-discriminatory and democratic, based upon what the majority of Dade County citizens voted for. They voted for an ordinance that would be fair and unrestricted to all businesses and communities alike, not just for the large out-of-town chains along the interstate that most of you have spoken about publicly and favor over our local establishments.

I personally think it is appalling to hear my elected officials speak in public and through our local media venues that the intent was for out-of-town chains and not for locally-owned businesses to be included. The out-of-town companies have absolutely no interest in Dade County, other than to use the infrastructure that we have struggled to build over the years as a small community, take the citizens' hard-earned money, and ship it out of town.

I have to ask why, as elected officials for Dade County, you would draft an ordinance that discriminates and virtually handcuffs a locally-owned business, started with local money that will stay local. You should be doing everything in your powers to promote and help the very people and businesses that have kept the lights on in our town.

Like it or not, the citizens of Dade County have spoken and spoken loudly, with a solid majority voting for liquor by the drink countywide. They did not vote for liquor by the drink only within two miles of the interstate and only in large 60-plus seat chain restaurants on land that is unattainable, except for the rich out-of-town Wall Street companies. As elected officials you should put aside all political, and personal agendas and put forth the will of the people. That will isn’t for you to put forth an ordinance that will only help the selected larger, chain businesses, it's for all businesses equally.

I understand you don’t want troublemaking “honky-tonks” in our community; nor do I. As elected officials you should not discriminate through regulatory avenues, a legal, local business that is trying to start up, or for that matter, one that has been established and contributing for years. Every business and potential new business should have the same opportunities countywide.

In my conversations with a few commissioners you have referenced other counties in Georgia as your guidance for drafting this ordinance.

You should not follow other counties. You should think out of the box and come up with progressive, new ideas that help promote the growth of our businesses and communities. Why don’t you try reaching out to some of us instead of just drafting rules and regulations that handcuff the very people that might contribute?

I ask you as a citizen and potential new business owner to do the right thing and scrap this discriminatory document and draft one that’s equally fair and just for all. Lets work together and get this right the first time.

Respectfully, Chris Stone

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