Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen loosen alcohol regulations despite opposition

Jessica Fuller • May 22, 2017 at 9:56 PM

ERWIN — Two ordinances that will loosen Erwin’s laws on alcohol passed their second reading at the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting amid pushback from members of the community who came to speak against the ordinances.

Both ordinances were approved on first reading at the board’s April 24 meeting, and passed unanimously at Monday night’s meeting. The first ordinance will allow beer consumption in the town’s downtown overlay district for special events and at the board’s discretion through an application process. The second ordinance revises municipal code, which states that beer permits are restricted to businesses within a 200-foot radius of a church or school, to no longer apply to the downtown overlay district.

Proponents of the ordinance, like business owner Jamie Rice and Erwin Downtown Development Board director Tyler Engle, say they will draw more business to downtown during festivals and give more options to would-be downtown businesses. Town Recorder Glenn Rosenoff said that as it stands, if a church were to be established in the downtown overlay district, it would wipe out almost any chance of a business obtaining a beer permit due to the 200-foot code.

“If a church relocated to the middle of downtown, and if you look at that 200-foot radius in a tight downtown, that could eliminate any restaurant that wants to serve (beer),” Rosenoff said after the meeting. “We have had different prospects looking at different properties for potential restaurants to be able to serve alcohol.”

The move didn’t come without community members protesting against it though.

A public hearing preceding the meeting drew about a dozen community members opposed to the ordinances. Many cited concerns that they didn’t want their children and grandchildren to be subjected to alcohol at events like the Apple Festival, and others argued that allowing these measures to pass would be a slippery slope to public drunkenness and other criminal activity. 

Community member Forrest Jackson, who spoke out against allowing alcohol in the streets for special occasions, said he was skeptical of the claims that passing the ordinances would help bring business to downtown Erwin.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I can see a lot of things. I can see permitting a restaurant or two. But this is not a good thing. I’m not going to bring my kids or grandkids down there.” 

“I talked to people in Johnson City about the Blue Plum Festival, and they say if you’re a church-going person, you can’t go over there,” Gene Wilson, another community member, said. “I think it’s a bad idea.”

Despite the 30 minutes of comments from the public, mostly against passing the ordinances, they both received unanimous approval from the board.

After the vote, some board members gave their opinion freely on the matter.

“I feel really strongly about the economic benefits of this,” Alderman Mark Lafever said. “You want to talk about families, I’m sorry, my family has been devastated too from loss of a job. If we don’t do something in this town to fix that, to entice people to come to our town, we’re all going to be looking for a place to go.”

The ordinances will go into effect in 10 days.

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.