November 21, 2018
By Jill Penley
Election results caused jubilation for one side and consternation for the other, but when it comes to alcohol sales within a county or city, there’s a lot to understand. While Johnson County voters approved referendums on November 6, clearing theway for liquor stores to be built and restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages on a local level, the next step remained ambiguous.
“We will have at least one package or liquor store within the city limits,” declared city attorney, George Wright as discussions of the alcohol issue dominated last week’s city council meeting. “You need to be thinking about what requirements you are going to place on where a package store can go,” said Wright, who hinted some on the council might be hoping to block alcohol sales. “Do not even think about zoning in a way to try and keep it out because the state would intervene if that happened.”
While the Town of Mountain City voters rejected liquor sales in the city limits in 2009, Mayor Kevin Parsons pointed out city voters voted two to one in favor of both the package store and consumption on premises this go round.
According to Wright, the 2009 ordinance was unconstitutional. “It included a statement making it illegal to possess or transport alcohol in the city limits,” said Wright. “No municipality has this authority.”
Wright explained state law dictates that a package store can only be located within a municipality so any package store would be in the city limits. The city council decided to form a sub-committee to handle the decisions surrounding package store requirements, but it did not decide, at the meeting, who would serve on said committee.
“Once the Town has established such items as setbacks, locations, etc., they can accept applications,” explained Wright. “Once the application is approved, the town has basically nothing else to do since the state ABC board will take over from there.”
The issue of retail sales and serving at restaurants involves an entirely different process, and Wright admits he needs more time to research the topic.
“Tennessee treats liquor, wine, and beer separately,” said Wright. “It may be too costly to get a full license here, at least in the city limits.”
Wright explained the county would be somewhat different as the board of commissioners could apply set-backs, but the licensing costs would be the same. “Insofar as the additional revenue is concerned,” said Wright, “the town can charge up an eight percent inspection fee, which is collected by the wholesaler at the time they sell to the package store.”