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Hampton seeks compliance with liquor sales vote

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The City of Hampton recently passed an "emergency ordinance," in order to comply with an approved liquor-sales referendum. By a count of 823 to 815, voters narrowly passed the new liquor law, during the general election earlier this month.

It read: "Shall the issuance of licenses for the package sale of distilled spirits be approved?" Voters said, yes.

The "emergency ordinance" will be good for 90 days, according to city officials.

The Hampton City Council held a special meeting on Nov. 19, to discuss new regulations for businesses interested in exercising their rights, following the approval of the sale of distilled alcohol within the city limits.

"As you can see, it passed by only eight votes, but it only had to pass by one vote for it to become local law," said Janet Shellnutt, Henry County Elections and Registration director. "I sent the election certification summary to the City of Hampton the day after we certified [the votes.]"

The city is legally required to be prepared to issue a liquor license within 15 days of the certification of the votes, said Hampton City Councilmember Arley Lowe.

"The council voted on an ordinance to govern the actual facility that will sell packaged distilled spirits, for example: the square footage of the building, the taxes that will be levied on the business, the price of the business license, etc.," said Hampton City Manager Andy Pippin. "The next step is passing an amendment to our zoning that will allow the sale of distilled spirits in the C-3 (Heavy Commercial) zoning.

"All of this is new, as the sale of distilled spirits by the package is new to Hampton," continued Pippin. "Some people have voiced their disapproval of this, but state law says that if it is voted upon, and passed by the people of Hampton, it becomes lawful, and the city has to make arrangements to allow it."

Lowe, who voted for the ordinance, said C-3 zoning is in effect along Ga. Highway 19-41.

The council voted 3-to-2 to officially accept the results of the liquor referendum and begin drafting the ordinance.

In other business at the called meeting, the council voted to set the annual business license fees charged to a liquor store at $5,000, plus additional charges of $1,000 to sell beer, and $250 to sell wine, said Lowe. The liquor store also would be required to carry a minimum inventory of $450,000, of a variety of beverages, he added.

The store's minimum square footage would be 7,500 square feet of combined showroom, and storage space.

Lowe said the city council also passed a tax of 22 cents per liter, the maximum amount allowed by the state, to be charged to the distributor. "We had to do something, to be in compliance with the law," Lowe said. Failing to take action and draft an ordinance governing sales of distilled spirits, would open up the city to possible lawsuits, added Lowe.

City Councilmember Marty Meeks, however, voted against the ordinance. Meeks said he does not want to give the impression the city is opening the door to sales of distilled spirits. "What we basically did was, put something in place so they could move forward with being able to issue a license," Meeks said.

"The City of Hampton stands to make some revenue from these sales. I am not comfortable voting for anything promoting the sale of distilled alcohol in the City of Hampton. Everyone has the right to their own opinion."

Meeks said during its Dec. 7 meeting, the city council will "fine tune" the liquor ordinance and make it permanent.