Ministers want liquor restrictions
Leada DeVaney, Hartselle Enquirer
For East Highland Baptist Church Pastor Walter Blackman, the fight against alcohol hits close to home.
"I grew up in an alcoholic home," Blackman said. "My father died from cirrhosis of the liver."
It's because of those reasons – coupled with his religious faith and a belief in the preservation of family values – that Blackman said he is opposed to liquor sales in Hartselle. He's being joined by other members of the Hartselle Ministerial Association, who are calling on the city council to have strict guidelines in place before city residents even vote on whether to turn their city wet.
The wet-dry referendum is scheduled for Nov. 5.
The ministers are asking the city to have an ordinance in place before that time that, if alcohol sales are approved, would limit where, when and how the beverages could be sold. If the city doesn't have a limiting ordinance, all licenses would be decided on by the Alabama Beverage Control Board.
"We are hoping this is all for naught and that members of the community will vote against alcohol sales," Blackman said. "If it's not, we want to be ready. Many people in our community are parents and they would be unhappy if alcohol sales are allowed next to our schools."
The ministers presented their ideal regulations to the council in the form of an ordinance drafted by the Alabama Citizens Action Program, a Birmingham-based conservative action group led by Dr. Dan Ireland. Under the proposed ordinance, alcohol sales would be limited to:
"We are not trying to supersede the will of the people," Blackman said. "We're just trying to make sure certain places in our community that speak of family values, faith and education are away from alcohol sales."
However, according to City Attorney Larry Madison, the restrictions the ministers are seeking could be "inviting a lawsuit" for the city.
"You can regulate it within reasonable distances. The largest distance I've ever see held up (in court) was 300 feet," Madison said. "You can regulate it, but not in such a way that you prohibit it."
Madison said the city's strongest recourse in prohibiting some sales is through zoning.
"You can prohibit it in residential and institutional zones, but where you have problems is where those two zones come together," he said. "Instead of being radical on either side, we need to look at something reasonable. You're going to get buried in legislation if you make it too restrictive but you're doing a disservice to the community if you make it too wide-open.
"You've got to find the middle ground."
It's Madison who's being asked to help the city find that middle ground. He is drafting an ordinance for the council to consider, though he said he knows it will undergo many changes between now and the referendum.
After it's drafted, Mayor Clif Knight said he would like to hold public hearings on the ordinance. If voters approve alcohol sales, the ordinance would go into effect as soon as the council passes it.
Madison said because of the delay involved with the ABC's application process, the city would have time to pass the ordinance before any licenses were granted.