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Clermont eyes alcohol restrictions
New ordinance would prohibit brown-bagging at businesses in the N. Hall town
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A new Clermont ordinance could completely prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages and include restrictions on open containers and brown-bagging.

Clermont City Council members will consider the changes at its June 7 meeting, and a final vote will take place at the July 5 meeting.

"It came about as a recent situation with one business that wants to do brown-bagging at the establishment," said Town Clerk Sandra Helton. "There was nothing in place regarding this issue, and the council wanted to take care of that. For a city to adopt an ordinance, usually a situation presents itself."

Though the Gainesville and Flowery Branch city councils voted last week to put the Sunday alcohol sales referendum question on the ballot, Clermont is heading in a different direction, said Mayor James Nix.

"This is more than brown-bagging, in a way, and it came up along with all these Sunday sales talks," he said.

"We're still trying to decide if people are interested in this ordinance, so we're going to get that information and consider it."

Council members decided to discuss the idea a few weeks ago when someone expressed concerns about The Smokin' Fisherman at 360 Cleveland Highway.

"A cop stopped and told me to go to the council meeting that night because people were accusing me of running game and gambling in my back room," said business owner Kerry Hicks. "Instead of talking to me about it, they took for granted that someone told them I was running poker tables."

At the end of last year, Hicks decided to add on to his bait, tackle and smoking shop and asked several council members about a brown-bagging ordinance. They said one didn't exist.

"In this economy, you have to diversify or get out, so I decided to add pool tables and allow BYOB. Then people wouldn't have to drive to Helen or Gainesville just to have some cold beers and watch NASCAR," Hicks said. "At that time, the council seemed to think it was OK."

The ordinance would prohibit brown-bagging at businesses and "places of public accommodation" in the small northern Hall County town. This doesn't restrict events that are catered as part of a religious ceremony, including weddings and wedding receptions at a church.

The open container rule includes all public roads, sidewalks and parking lots in Clermont, and open alcoholic beverages can't be placed in the passenger compartment of a vehicle.

Under the ordinance, any restaurant that is licensed by another government to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises can allow customers to remove one open bottle of wine per customer.

However, the customer must purchase a meal and consume a portion of the bottle of wine on the premises and then reseal the bottle, place it in a bag that makes the bottle visible and place it in a closed compartment or trunk in the vehicle.

"I'm watching my life savings go downhill, and I just hope they don't do this without thinking," Hicks said.

"Why don't they put it on the books with an election coming up instead of five people dictating what should happen?"

Any change that includes alcohol should go on the ballot for voters to decide, said council member Albert Reeves.

"The whole alcohol issue, including Sunday sales, needs to be on the ballot because alcohol is about morals," he said. "Drunk driving is bad and being drunk in public is wrong, but this ordinance is an overreaction, and citizens should decide."

Reeves is also worried about the broad scope of the ordinance.

"It says ‘business,' so by the way it's worded, that could apply to home business, and how do we enforce that? This should have been addressed by the attorney," he said. "Now it could be passed without any of those issues being fixed."

Reeves would like more time to review the ordinance.

"We should have had more discussion than one work session," he said.

"Now three council members have made up their minds about it before we all had a chance to discuss anything. I wasn't present at that one work session."

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