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Commissioners promise to overhaul alcohol codes
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There are downsides to being dry at a waterside restaurant.

That's what Chris and Janet Bennett, owners of Dockside Grill at Aqualand Marina off Lake Lanier, told the Hall County Board of Commissioners in appealing for a license to serve wine and beer at their covered outdoor restaurant.

Hall County has an ordinance banning outdoor restaurants with covered decks from serving booze, unless there is also indoor seating and restrooms. Dockside Grill, which primarily serves Aqualand Marina clients, does not meet those requirements.

That creates a challenge for the Hall County restaurant, which is competing with lakeside marina restaurants in other counties that don't have that rule.

"We have a strong and loyal customer base, but we're already feeling the impact on our business," she told commissioners. "(Customers) will and do go elsewhere if we can't serve them."

This rule is one of several on the county books involving alcohol that Hall commissioners say are stricter than the state's codes, are confusing for customers and are causing headaches for business owners like the Bennetts.

Hall commissioners promised this week to revisit the county's alcohol codes this spring in an effort to simplify and ease restrictions.

In the meantime, commissioners granted a temporary alcohol license to Dockside Grill to cover the restaurant until those revisions come through.

"What we're finding is some of our outdated local laws are once again more restrictive than the state law," said Commissioner Billy Powell. "We're trying to meet the state requirements."

And by meet, he means to avoid exceeding state codes.

Tuesday's commission meeting highlighted just how confusing the regulations are.

The Ugly Tomato fruit and vegetable stand, which county officials described as a flea market, in Murrayville successfully won a license to serve alcohol on Tuesday without bumping against Hall County ordinances.

"All I know is our alcohol ordinance is so convoluted that we can give an alcohol ordinance to a flea market," said Commissioner Craig Lutz, "but we can't give it to an outdoor burger stand or a convenience store."

Meanwhile, neighboring counties are not nearly as strict.

One problem facing Dockside Grill, Bennett said, is that customers could take their boats to lakeside marinas in counties that didn't face similar restrictions.

"It is not a fair playing field," she said.

Agreeing that it would be unfair to make the suffer for an ordinance it was about to change, commissioners agreed to offer the restaurant a temporary license that would run until May 1.

Dockside Grill is currently closed for the winter, but will open again in March.

Bennett said she isn't sure she'll have the license by the time the restaurant opens, but should at least have it by April 1.

Still, Bennett said she was encouraged by the commissioners' attitude toward changing the rules.

"I appreciated their overall willingness to work with us," she said.

In the meantime, commissioners asked staff to begin working on drafts of a new alcohol ordinance.

"I'm thinking we just need to completely replace this code with something new," Lutz said.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs agreed, asking that the new ordinance use state alcohol laws as a baseline with the county tweaking laws from there to fit the county's needs.

"I don't want to have a bar on every corner," Gibbs said.

That code likely will include the results of the upcoming county referendum on Sunday alcohol sales. Voters will decide with the March 6 presidential primary election whether beer and wine can be sold on Sundays.

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