A straw poll on whether to allow beer and wine sales in Clermont is history, but the results of the nonbinding vote have not put the controversial issue to rest as far as two local business owners are concerned.
The town’s election last week drew just 127 voters. Of those who voted on the beer and wine straw poll, 80 residents marked “no” on the ballot and another 46 voted “yes.”
Chris Nonnemaker and Valerie Kirves, who own and operate businesses on U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway within Clermont town limits, said they have collected about 100 signed petitions from registered Clermont voters who are in favor of beer and wine sales. They say they will continue with the petition drive.
At the same time, Nonnemaker, who owns Papa’s Pizza To Go, said they would continue working with local state representatives about de-annexing from Clermont.
“The city refuses to allow us to de-annex,” Nonnemaker said. “My question to city council is why don’t you just let us de-annex. Their answer is, if we let you out, then everyone is going to want to be out, Well then, why does everyone want to leave Clermont?”
Kirves owns and operates a gift store called Iron Accents on Cleveland Highway. She and her husband, Mark, would like to sell their business property because much of her time is consumed caring for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.
The couple told The Times they’ve had offers to purchase their property and turn it into a restaurant, but talks end as soon as the prospective buyers learn the property is in Clermont, which doesn’t allow alcohol sales.
“When we annexed into Clermont (town officials) told us we could de-annex as long as our property was not an island,” Valerie Kirves said, meaning that their business was not surrounded by properties inside Clermont town limits.
“Everything around us is Hall County, but they refuse to let us de-annex,” she said.
State Rep. Lee Hawkins told The Times on Saturday that he indicated to Clermont Town Council that if they held a straw poll on beer and wine sales, that he would not offer de-annexation legislation.
“I felt (the straw poll) would be a good indicator of how the people felt there,” Hawkins said. “This is a democracy and they voted against it. In my mind, the people had their say.”
Although Hawkins said he would not present such legislation, he said another member of the local delegation could do so on behalf of Nonnemaker and Kirves. That legislation would have to be passed by both the House and Senate.
Hawkins said that to his knowledge there has never been de-annexation legislation presented from Hall County.
“There has been some brought in other counties, and I think some has passed,” Hawkins said. “I’m not sure what the voting rate has been.”
For Nonnemaker and Kirves to bring their de-annexation petition to the state legislature, they would have to convince the local delegation it’s the right thing to do, Hawkins added. There are four Hall legislators in the House and two in the Senate, and a majority vote would be needed.
Typically, the tradition in Hall County is for local legislation to originate in the House, although there’s no formal or written rule on that, Hawkins said.
Hawkins said that at this point, Nonnemaker and Kirves would have to find some other member of the local delegation to present the de-annexation legislation after he made a commitment to town council not to do so if they held the straw poll.
Hawkins said he discussed it with the business owners prior to the vote.
“I said, you know, if you feel like there’s strength out there and people agree with you, ask them to vote and make sure they vote in the election,” Hawkins said. “You saw how it turned out.”
Nonnemaker said a more fair question to have asked Clermont voters should have been whether the commercial district on U.S. 129 be allowed to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits.
“I can understand people not wanting it in the center of town, but there’s no businesses in the center of town except for the Clermont hotel,” he said. “The town’s behind us a mile. The little city hall is a mile from us. Yet, they have right up the street a gas station selling beer and wine and they’re less than a mile away from my business, They have definitely devalued my property and taken away our property rights by not allowing us to do this. That’s what is so upsetting.”