At their February 7 meeting, the Caledonia Board of Aldermen heard a request for a variance to the beer sales ordinance, a request for a stop sign on Cal-Steens Road and discussed a Water Department right-of-way issue in executive session.
Jeff Doty, who is interested in buying Cal City Grocery, requested that the board grant a variance to the beer sales ordinance.
[The Cal-City Grocery has been in operation since the 1970s. Due to the fact that it was already selling cold beer when cold beer sales were banned, it was allowed to continue selling under a so-called grandfather clause. Owner Bill Pearrow died in September 2010 and his daughter, Valerie Riley, has since been trying to find someone to take over the business. A leasee was found, but broke the lease and, as a result, the store was closed for two months. When Ms. Riley appeared before the board late last year to question the aldermen about the grandfather clause, she was told that the exemption would be lost if the store ever ceased to operate. Due to the closure, the grandfather clause expired and now Mr. Doty is seeking to get it reinstated. – Brian Jones]
Town Attorney Jeff Smith attempted to explain the situation.
“The problem is going to be selling cold beer,” Smith said. “There is a 1945 ordinance that prohibits you from selling beer within 1,500 feet of a church or school. You pass that one. The other one is a 1982 ordinance requiring you to sell beer hot. Your store was grandfathered in. I assume that’s what you’re here about?”
“Well, I’m just here enquiring,” Doty said. “We’re looking at making a big investment. I’m going to a show tomorrow looking at all new kitchen equipment and that type of stuff.”
“The long and the short of it is that unless the board approves a variance, you’re not grandfathered in anymore,” Smith said. “You’ve been closed. The business itself has been closed for two or three months. The board’s position has always been – and I’m just the lawyer, they can do what they want – the board’s position has always been that there is no place in Caledonia that can serve cold beer. Y’all’s was the only one.”
“Don’t say y’all’s, it’s not mine yet,” Doty said. “What I’m trying to do now is buy the property. I’m waiting on the appraisal to come back. I’m going to revamp the store and everything, and that’s why I’m here to enquire about beer sales. I’ve had one in Aberdeen and run it for 10 years now, we’ve sold it. I’ve sold beer out of there. I’ve never had a bad checkup. We ID, we card. I’ve got about 18 DUIs that I’ve gotten put on people for trying to buy beer that didn’t need to be driving or whatever. I’m here to enquire about [the beer sales] before I spend $150,000 or $200,000.”
“What about the liquor store?” asked Mayor George Gerhart.
“I’ve still got the liquor store in Aberdeen,” Doty said. “State law is that you can only have one. I’m going to sell that liquor store, I don’t know that I’ll do that again. The biggest thing we’re looking at here is the food end, we think that’s going to be the biggest end of it. I already own Penny Lane Java Café in Aberdeen, and we’re thinking about maybe moving some of that menu in here. My concern tonight is really the beer sales.”
“If you couldn’t sell beer, would it change your plans about coming?” asked Alderman Quinn Parham.
“It probably would, yeah,” Doty said. “I just don’t think…I think with everything I’m putting into it, it’s going to take everything I can get. I will bring a lot of revenue. I do a tremendous amount of business in Hamilton, and I’ve been told that if we leave and come here a lot of them will follow us here.”
“What’s involved with the variance?” asked Alderman Mike Savage.
“Y’all need to remember why this thing was done,” Smith said. “I’ve never understood why it was done, but of course I don’t vote. You had a guy that was thinking about putting in a nightclub, and that ordinance was a reaction to the nightclub maybe being put in. The thought was they were going to start serving beer from a tap, and that was the reason that you can no longer sell beer individually, and it has to be served hot. The ordinance has been looked at time after time after time, but no board has ever changed it. The variance would be fairly simple, he’d have to request it and then the board could grant it with a vote.”
“Why was it not in the ordinance how long it had to be closed before it could no longer serve beer?” Gerhart asked.
“The thought was that courts have always said ‘a reasonable amount of time,’ which is generally considered 30 days,” Smith said. “That’s what we’ve always used.”
“We’ve tried to make this move quicker,” Doty said. “It’s been a difficult transition. I’ve got an appraiser, it’s supposed to be ready this week.”
“If we do a variance, does that open us up to everybody in town?” Savage asked.
“If you grant a variance, you’re supposed to have a legitimate reason,” Smith said.
“The legitimate reason to me would be the tax dollars,” Parham said. “People who want beer are going to buy it, they’ll just go somewhere else.”
“The courts say you can’t be arbitrary or capricious,” Smith said. “It can’t be because you like Jeff or he’s kin to you.”
“Due to the fact that it will add to the town coffers, I have no objection,” Gerhart said.
“It’s not just beer sales,” Parham said. “We want it to open up. It’ll have gas and food, too.”
Smith said that Doty needed to make a written request to the board for the variance, at which time the board could vote it up or down.
Doty asked that the board move quickly.
“I’m about to be unemployed where I am because we’re moving out of there,” Doty said. “I’m ready to make a move. That would give me March, and my tentative opening date would be approximately April 1. That gives me a 30-day window to come in and get everything done.”
The board took no action that night.
[The board held a special meeting Saturday morning to take the issue up again. I learned about the meeting after the fact, so was not there to cover it personally; I have no idea how or if the meeting was noticed to the public. The variance was voted down 3-2. Bill Darnell, Steve Honnoll and Brenda Willis voted no, with Savage and Parham voting yes.
This is not the first time beer sales have come up in recent years. In November 2009 Mi Toro Mexican Restaurant requested a variance, but was turned down. Mi Toro, unlike Cal-City Grocery, is right next to a church. I don’t believe that Cal-City is within 1,500 feet of a church, and Messrs. Smith and Doty seemed to believe that the location of the store was not an issue. I believe the board’s primary concern was that, by granting a variance to Cal-City, they would then be inundated by requests from other entities for the same thing. – Brian Jones]
Jim Westberry asked that the board consider installing stop signs at the intersection of Wolf Road and Cal-Steens Road.
“Is there anything we can do?” he asked. “That is the worst intersection in the county right there. My suggestion is to put a stop sign up for incoming traffic on Wolf Road. That’ll solve the problem. You can’t see around that bend until you start making your turn. You put stop signs in, you’ll be able to see one another. Us old people, we can’t turn around see what’s coming. Nobody comes through there at 35 miles an hour no way. Anything you can do would be better than what you’ve got now.”
Gerhart asked Darnell, Honnoll and Marshal Ben Kilgore to get together with County Road Manager Ronny Burns and try to find a solution.
In other business, the board hired a prosecuting attorney for town court. Former County Prosecutor Tim Hudson will take the post. He will be paid $175 per month. Hudson’s hire was approved unanimously.
The board went into an approximately 100-minute executive session to discuss an right-of-way issue with the Water Department. Jim and Pam Robertson allege that the Water Department did work on their property last year without first seeking a right-of-way. The Robertsons and Water Department Superintendent Benny Coleman met behind closed doors with the board, but no action was taken.