Judy Tyler's prayers were answered by a Superior Court ruling Monday, and now Curtis Baptist Church is praying that Augusta commissioners will again come to their aid.
Ms. Tyler's yet-to-open downtown restaurant is across the street and a block down from the church, whose members have vehemently opposed a request to sell alcohol and permit dancing so close to their sanctuary and affiliated school. Commissioners responded to an outcry of opposition from church members last fall by denying Ms. Tyler permits to sell liquor, pour alcohol on Sundays and feature live entertainment.
Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett overturned that decision Monday, ruling the Augusta Commission "grossly abused its discretion" by denying the license applications. He also said Ms. Tyler "had a clear legal right to receive the licenses for which she applied."
Ms. Tyler said the decision marked the first development in her favor during what has been more than a five-month battle between her, the nearby church and the commission. She said her reaction when she learned of the ruling through a Tuesday article in The Augusta Chronicle was one of relief.
"When I saw that in the paper (Tuesday) morning, I just felt like somebody put a pin in me and all the air and pressure went out," she said.
But attorneys say Ms. Tyler will have to wait a week to 30 days to determine whether commissioners will appeal the judge's decision. The appeal process would prevent her from getting the licenses until a ruling is made.
Ms. Tyler says it's just one more barrier to be overcome at her expense.
"I did everything right, but everything went wrong," she said. "I should have gotten the license in the beginning."
Mark Harris, pastor of Curtis Baptist, said he is disappointed and concerned by the judge's decision, adding that there is little else church members can do to effect a change.
"I think our action, of course, is going to be through the power of prayer - that the Lord will intervene in some way," Dr. Harris said. "I think there will be encouragement in some pockets to appeal, but there won't be any action on our part."
City Attorney Jim Wall declined to comment on what action he will recommend to commissioners regarding an appeal. He is expected to review the judge's ruling during executive session at next week's commission meeting.
Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, who voted against issuing alcohol licenses to Off Broadway, said Tuesday he supported an appeal, citing concerns that the ruling will set a precedent and allow similar businesses to open near schools and churches citywide.
"I just think that the churches and schoolchildren and residents of downtown Augusta deserve the same protection under the law as has been granted in south Richmond County," Mr. Bridges said. "We've used this criteria in the past in at least four instances in south Richmond County."
Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.