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Gainesville City Council approves alcohol ordinance changes
Final vote set for Feb. 17
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Drive-thru request tabled until March

The Gainesville City Council has postponed another vote on a proposal to build a drive-thru restaurant and small retail outlet at the intersection of Thompson Bridge Road and Virginia Circle.

Sensing his request was doomed, David Johnson, a local cardiologist, asked for the delay so he can make changes to the site plan for the proposed development.

While recent changes to the plans include additional landscaping buffers and allow for entrance-only access off Virginia Circle, council members had expressed concerns he proposal remains incompatible with the adjacent residential neighborhood.

The planning and appeals board has twice recommended denial of the rezoning needed for the development to proceed.

Gainesville attorney Steve Gilliam, who represents Johnson, said there will no longer be an entrance or exit to Virginia Circle, eliminating access in the residential neighborhood.

“This is a big concession,” he added.

Gilliam said changes will be made to the site plan as buildings need to be reconfigured.

City Council will vote March 3 on the rezoning request.

Joshua Silavent

Gainesville City Council has approved several changes to the city’s alcohol ordinance, which are meant to promote new businesses, streamline permitting, eliminate outdated restrictions and better align with state regulations.

A second reading and final vote on the changes will be made Feb. 17 when the council meets.

The move was hailed by many local residents and business owners, who said the ordinance had stifled growth in the alcohol industry.

But the changes are adamantly opposed by Councilman George Wangemann, who cast the lone dissent.

The emergence of growlers, craft breweries and farm wineries in the city and Hall County in 2014 prompted officials to review the ordinance and determine several sections needed to be modified to reflect the growth of these businesses.

Assistant City Manager Angela Sheppard said last week the proposed changes are meant as an economic development tool.

Changes include lowering seating requirements at restaurants; allowing for a monetary fine in place of a suspension of an alcohol license for ordinance violations; giving the city marshal full authority to approve or deny alcohol licenses; expanding taste tests at local farm wineries and growlers; and allowing nonrestaurant retail service businesses, such as a nail salon, to obtain on-site consumption licenses.

Changes also allow home brewers to host events, and create licenses for farm winery tasting rooms, brewpubs and special events.

Finally, the new ordinance allows for the sale and consumption of alcohol in parks upon city approval.

Matt Vrahiotes, owner of Sweet Acre Farms in North Hall, which is on its way to becoming the first farm winery in the county, said he appreciated the changes city officials made. He said he hopes to open a tasting room in the downtown area some day.

Other public comment urged city officials to scrap the requirement that restaurants serving alcohol make at least 50 percent of their revenue from food sales.

But the only change officials approved in this regard is to allow the city marshal to request a suspension or revocation hearing if restaurants fail to meet the 50 percent requirement for two consecutive quarters, rather than placing the business on probation.

Wangemann said he did not support the changes because he believes they will encourage more people to drink irresponsibly, placing a larger burden on public safety agencies.

“I have some deep concerns about this, to be honest with you,” he said. “This is quite a drastic change.”

Wangemann said his friend was killed by a drunken driver several years ago and he feared the worst for other families.

“I’m not really sure this is good for our community,” he added. “ ... I’m convinced that this is all about the money.”