Lula officials continued to craft a new alcoholic beverages law Wednesday, with an eye toward possibly holding a public hearing and vote in January.
City Manager Dennis Bergin and City Council spent about 40 minutes picking through fine details in the proposed law, such as penalties and violations and rules governing farm wineries.
At discussion’s end, Bergin vowed to get the council an updated version of the proposed law and a list of suggested permit fees and fines.
“Let’s see what our (Hall County) sheriff’s department and (municipal) judge’s views are on (the fines),” he said.
The city’s efforts are in response to local voters approving a Nov. 8 referendum to allow liquor to be served by the drink.
A referendum wasn’t necessary to allow beer and wine sales, but city officials have said they would develop a comprehensive alcoholic beverages law if the liquor vote passed.
Currently, only beer and wine package sales at local stores can be sold Monday through Saturday.
Officials are looking at allowing the new alcohol sales 10 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday.
In any case, Sunday alcohol sales aren’t allowed. The only way to allow them is through a referendum.
One potential thorny issue for officials in the new law is deciding how much food establishments must sell.
Quoting from the draft ordinance, Bergin said food “should be at least 50 percent of the total.”
But then he added, “I should have left that blank. That’s probably one of the bigger sticking points for you.”
Keeping a proper balance is “a challenge, from what we understand from other communities,” Bergin said, “but there should be a predetermined limit that would suggest ‘X’ percentage of their sales would be from food.”
And through the food requirement, “we’re already establishing a precedent that we’re not going to allow bars,” Bergin said.
If someone came into City Hall asking for a liquor license, “the first thing I would do based on the way this ordinance is written is I’d validate they have a business license as a restaurant. If they don’t do that, they’re not going to qualify here.”
“I think 60 percent food, 40 percent alcohol is a good ratio,” Councilman Vince Evans said.
The law also would apply to farm wineries, allowing package sales and the same pouring hours as other establishments.
Council members doubted wineries would sell liquor as late as midnight, but City Attorney Blake Poole noted that they could hold special events.
Bergin agreed, adding that wineries in White County “are all building meeting spaces where they can cater events and weddings.”