Watertown wrestles with alcohol

Jared Felkins • Updated Aug 17, 2017 at 8:00 AM

A majority of Tuesday evening’s Watertown City Council meeting centered on the city square and whether alcohol could be served there. 

At its last meeting July 18, the council approved, on a 4-3 vote, to remove the phrase, “any public library,” from a list of places such as churches, community centers, hospitals, funeral parlors, public recreation areas and schools within 250 feet where alcohol would be allowed to be sold. Mayor Mike Jennings and aldermen Kristie Cantrell and Brandy Holcomb voted against the measure. 

But on July 25, Jennings made good on his promise to “give it some thought” and vetoed the ordinance change. The Watertown Public Library is at the center of the square.

On Tuesday, several business leaders voiced their opposition to Jennings’ veto during the meeting. 

Three Forks Market owner Bill Scultz called the distance ordinance “short sighted and not visionary.”

Walker Creek Confections owner Cathy McCook agreed and said her business was too close to the library to be able to serve alcohol. She said she had considered a satellite winery in her shop during off-peak sales times during the summer months. 

“I was pretty surprised,” McCook said of Jennings’ veto. “I thought we had a vision and something we could be in control of where someone could have a beer or a glass of wine… What has happened is there is a limitation for me as a property owner, but also for people who want to come into town.”

Drew Herring recently moved to Watertown and bought a building on the square to renovate and live with his family on the second floor. He asked the council what he could do in his space with alcohol. 

“Someone like me who is dumping tens of thousands of dollars into my space, I need to know what I can do,” Herrin said. “I think the long-term viability is really to attract to the square. I think [the alcohol restriction] would be a big turnoff.”

Ruby Guidara, who owns the white elephant building opposite the former city hall on the square, said the restriction would be a negative in the minds of potential visitors. 

“I can’t do that in Watertown?” Guidara said. “I’m really sad and disappointed that we have the opportunity to do that, and we can’t because of the 250 feet to have a glass of wine or a beer on the square.

“I’d like to have a café here and a glass of wine and not have to drive to Lebanon or Nashville… I don’t want to open a restaurant, but by-God, I want to go to one and not have to have a glass of wine out behind the haystacks.”

Following his veto, Jennings said in a statement the ordinance that contained the provision regarding the list of places near where alcohol couldn’t be sold was approved on final reading Feb. 21 and went into effect March 6. 

“I voted for that ordinance,” Jennings said in July. “I considered that distance requirement to be reasonable, the method of measurement to be reasonable and the places it applied to, to be reasonable.”

In a statement in July, Jennings cited three main reasons for his veto. 

“I consider a public library to be very similar to a school, a community center, a church or religious building or a public recreation area,” he said. “In all those places, a large percentage of those attending would be children. I believe the same thing applies to our public library. It does not seem logical to me to apply the distance test to those other places such as schools, churches and public recreation areas and not apply them to a public library. 

“Concern was expressed during the debate at our July 18 meeting about how this might affect business in Watertown. With that in mind, I had a GIS map prepared using the main entrance of the Hamblen-Bell Watertown Public Library as the center point and established a 250-foot radius around that center point. Keep in mind the distance requirement is from the main entrance of the retail business to the main entrance of the public library. None of our current restaurants fall within that 250-foot radius. In other words, this distance requirement would not affect their selling alcohol, should they choose to apply and do so. The 250-foot radius actually intersects a very small portion of two of our restaurants in town on East Main Street, but the front door on both establishments is outside of the 250-foot radius. Keep in mind there is also a 250-foot radius around any church in our community, and the location of Watertown First Baptist Church and the Watertown Church of God of Prophecy may affect who would be eligible for the sale of liquor and beer. 

“Finally, should the public library be removed from the distance requirement, this would open the possibility of, for special events, the sale of wine, liquor or beer occurring on the public square during a public event. I cannot support that.”

Jennings’ veto would require two-thirds approval of the council to override it. The council recessed its meeting Tuesday until Aug. 23 when it will further discuss the city budget. The council didn’t vote on whether to override the veto because aldermen Brandon Howard and Holcomb were absent. 

The council will have the chance to vote on whether to override the veto Aug. 23 at 5 p.m. at the community center during the recessed meeting. 

Jennings also said during the meeting he would have beer and liquor sales applications available soon for business owners.

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