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|Church, liquor issue fails|
The Monroe City Council unanimously voted down a proposal to allow churches the option to locate near businesses that sell alcohol.
The city council acted on the matter Tuesday night at its regular meeting.
The issue brought before the city council by city attorney Nanci Summersgill called upon the council to amend city code to allow churches the option to locate near bars, restaurants and other establishments with a liquor license.
Currently, a city zoning ordinance prohibits churches and establishments that sell alcohol from locating within 300 feet of one another.
Summersgill was asked to find a solution to the issue after Faith Tabernacle Church approached the city and asked permission to establish its church facility at 1905 Auburn Ave. in Monroe. That area is zoned to allow liquor sales.
The city council typically denies churches permits to locate near businesses that sell alcohol. The reason for this is because if an establishment goes out of business or loses its liquor license, having a church near that location would prevent any future businesses from selling alcohol there.
The proposal the city council voted down would have allowed any church that wanted to locate near establishments that sell alcohol the opportunity to do so. However, the 300-foot rule would have still applied to existing churches since a grandfather clause would have been included in any city code amendments.
Councilman Ben Katz, who represents the district where Faith Tabernacle wanted to move, told Summersgill that he would not approve of the measure unless a state attorney general's opinion was obtained.
"We have been through this four times," Katz said. "We've tweaked it and changed it."
"I don't have any faith in where we are today and I want the attorney general to tell us that what we're doing will pass muster," he said. "I'm not putting those businesses in jeopardy."
Summersgill responded, saying, "I can't think of any more waste of time than going after an AG's opinion. It took one year the last time we requested an opinion."
Councilmen Robert Johnson and Arthur Gilmore, both local attorneys, agreed with Summersgill that the city would not violate state law by allowing the activity.
"What we're actually doing is preventing churches from coming into business districts where liquor is sold," Summersgill said. "That's what the city of Monroe chooses to do now. Nobody told us we have to do it, and if we choose not to do it, we have every right to do that.
"This is a very simple issue. The city of Monroe is electing not to let churches go into areas where alcohol is sold. If you adopt this ordinance, it would resolve this issue forever, and it wouldn't hurt your businesses.
"Nobody seems to want to buck up and say that the 300-foot rule, which was initially enacted to protect churches, now is very much limiting churches. It no longer helps, it hinders."
City Council chairman Robert "Red" Stevens said he was not in favor of "re-writing the whole system" simply because a church decided to move in near a liquor store.
"We have codes and zoning that we live by," he said.