Congregations from two area churches will be at today's Augusta Commission meeting to oppose the issuance of alcohol licenses to businesses within eyeshot of their sanctuaries.
Judy Tyler, a local entrepreneur seeking to open a restaurant and entertainment establishment called Off Broadway on the 1200 block of Broad Street, will go up against the congregation of Curtis Baptist Church, located across the street and a block away.
Sissy Boulus, who for six years has been leasing the Double Eagle Club on Washington Road for her special events catering business, will be opposed by representatives from Whole Life Ministries Church, less than 300 yards away in National Hills.
Both business owners say their establishments meet the standards of the law. Both churches contend the presence of alcohol threatens the safety of their congregations.
And Augusta commissioners will have to decide whether to approve the alcohol licenses in front of a chamber overflowing with ethical opposition or deny them and risk backlash from area business owners.
Mayor Bob Young said Monday he will vote to approve the alcohol license if he is forced to break a tie.
"It's appropriate, and it's the right thing to do," he said.
County ordinances prohibit the sale of alcohol within 100 yards of a church, library or public recreation area.
"A number of churches throughout the area have had to fight this battle as businesses begin to encroach on our neighborhoods," said Linda Bannecke, secretary to the pastor of Whole Life Ministries. "The church oftentimes has to be the voice of the people."
Although the two businesses in question are legally far enough away from the churches, commissioners have the power to deny an alcohol license if an element of "objective criteria" is present.
The two criteria cited by the six commissioners who voted Oct. 10 to deny the alcohol license for Off Broadway Dining & Dancing were the availability of alcohol from other businesses in the same vicinity and the likelihood that minors could congregate near the area.
In the past three years, the same objective criteria have been used to deny alcohol licenses to three other businesses. All three cases were appealed and upheld by the state Supreme Court.
Those three denials were for convenience stores located in residential neighborhoods, not restaurants bordering largely commercialized strips.
"From a legal standpoint, it holds up," said city attorney Jim Wall.
But from a practical stance, the comparison is not so valid, he said.
"Here you're talking about a restaurant that is part of an area that the city is pushing for development and revitalization," Mr. Wall said.
More than 100 Curtis Baptist Church members opposed the Broad Street spot's alcohol license Oct. 10, and the congregation submitted pages of signed petitions. They will have an equally strong showing today, Pastor Mark Taylor said.
"If it was a good decision two weeks ago, it's still a good decision today," the Rev. Taylor said. "(The restaurant's) presence downtown will not make or break downtown. We are saying that in this particular case that we have a very vested interest."
Whole Life Ministries likely will have a much smaller showing at today's meeting, made up of a few representatives of the church and the National Hills area.
"They have a right to oppose whatever they want, but we also have a right to be in business," said Ms. Boulus of the Double Eagle Club.
Ms. Tyler says she is about five weeks behind schedule and more than $9,000 in the red.
"A lot of people just like to have a drink or a glass of wine with their meal. That's our freedom," Ms. Tyler said. "I can make the restaurant successful if I can have the alcohol license, but you can't pay the lease on a 10,000-square-foot building serving ice tea."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.
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