Commission and Beer Board Bat Golf Club Booze Question Back and Forth

TSPLOST (transportation special purpose local option sales tax) was not the only presumed-dead issue to zombie-walk into the Dade County Commission’s February meeting last Thursday. (See previous article.) Also ricocheting back before the commissioners was a requested variance to Dade’s liquor ordinance by the Trenton Golf Club.

Dade voters said yes in November 2016 to a referendum allowing liquor by the drink to be sold in the unincorporated county. But the rules drafted by the commission to govern such sales have so far effectively quashed any attempt to make any. And after the Feb. 1 meeting, Dade is no further toward legal alcohol sales than it was in 2016; nor is the golf club.

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley opened the subject by saying he had talked with Sheriff Ray Cross about the request for the variance by Trenton Golf Club, located in the west side of the county on Back Valley Road. “He’s totally against it because of the road and the population of that area, the narrowness of the road,” he said, “Myself, I’m going to stand behind him.”

The variance request had come before the commissioners late last year, and they had volleyed it over to the Alcoholic Beverage Control, or so-called beer, board, which had served it to them in the first place. The commissioners now questioned why it had now been batted back across the net. “Do we have a say-so ourself, or is it the Alcohol Control Board?” Rumley asked County Attorney Robin Rogers. “Are they coming to us just for our blessing?”

Attorney Rogers expressed his own bewilderment: Had a license been applied for, and denied, the golf club? he asked.

No, said Rumley, the management company for the golf club had requested a variance of the ordinance because Back Valley is a county, as opposed to state, road. “It’s strictly written; on a county road there’s no license,” he said.

At the 2017 meeting when the issue first arose, Rogers and the commissioners had discussed the difficulties they faced trying to fit the golf club’s needs into their ordinance: The golf club wasn’t proposing to serve alcoholic beverages in a clubhouse setting with food—a certain food-to-booze ratio is specified by the Dade ordinance—but to sell it along with prepackaged snacks for consumption out on the golf course, like a convenience store.

More discussion along those lines ensued at the Feb. 1 meeting. “I don’t see how he could fit for an on-premises consumption license,” said Attorney Rogers. “There’s too many things there. The off-premises I think he’d be much closer to.”

This time, though, the talk moved from where the golfers would be refreshing themselves to what specific refreshments would be consumed. “From what I understand, they’re brown-bagging liquor now,” said Rumley.

A view of Trenton Golf Club's course on the east side of Back Valley Road.

“If they obtained a license, they could no longer brown bag,” said Rogers. “They’d need to go one way or the other on that.”

District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman pointed out that most establishments in Chattanooga that sold beer frowned upon patrons bringing their own coolers. He also noted that Dade’s ordinance does not in any case permit package sales of hard liquor. “We can’t give anybody permission to sell a bottle of liquor,” said Pittman.

Anyway, said the commissioners, this really wasn’t their line of country; it was the beer board’s problem. “I don’t know why it’s come before us,” said Pittman.

Attorney Rogers suggested that perhaps the golf club and the golf course should have separate leases, presumably to address the on-premises v. off-premises issue. But: “I don’t want to speak for the ABC board,” he added, “because really the ultimate decision is with them, not with us.”

The consensus was in fact ultimately to let the beer board make its own call. “We could amend our ordinance, I suppose, but really whether or not a license is granted, that’s their decision,” said Rogers. “But maybe some direction from the commission?”

He said he had spoken with the beer board’s Patty Murphy about the matter, though not with the golf club manager, as that would be too far outside his role.

As far as guidance from the commission, county boss Rumley had already made it clear he “stood with the sheriff,” and offered no further comment. District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff, though, commenting on the variance, said: “That’s up to the beer board, if they shirk the law on theirs, but that’s something I’m certainly not ready to vote on tonight.”

And if the "law-shirking" implication does not strike the beer board as guidance enough, here's another hint from a little later: “I would hope that the ABC board would look and see what kind of Pandora’s box you’re opening,” intoned Goff.

What will happen to Pandora's box, er, the golf club's request now? Will Pandora, er, the beer board, open it, or again bounce it back to the commission with a Return to Sender note?

The beer board's meetings are erratically scheduled and unannounced. The Planet will, however, undertake to report any developments as they become knowable, though with the caveat that that consummation might very well not come to pass until some future county commission meeting, when the metaphorical zombie staggers back into the room, in search, it is said, of brains...

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