Proposed changes to the beer and wine and liquor ordinances were a main topic at the meeting of the Upson County Board of Commissioners held on Tuesday, August 11 with Reverend Dean Hemphill and Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston voicing concerns on the matter.
Reverend Hemphill spoke to the board during public comment and stated he feels the distance between churches and the sale of beer and wine or distilled spirits should be greater than what is proposed. At a work session earlier this month, the commissioners discussed changing the ordinance to mirror the state on distance requirements for the sale of alcohol, which does not require any setback for a church, but does require one of 600 feet for a school.
“I saw in the paper about wanting to mirror the state,” began Rev. Hemphill. “Well, this is Upson County. I’ve been here a long time and I don’t want to be like Bibb County. I don’t want to be like Spalding County or Fulton County. I don’t want to be like those people. They have a lot of problems, a lot of gangs and a lot of trouble.”
Hemphill continued noting respect for God’s house is very important to him and he believes it deserves more respect than a school.
“We have a church house that to me should have more respect than school houses,” said Hemphill. “School houses have become a place of terror and killings and we need held in the school yard. But the church is a house of God. We should have respect for the church. We also have school in the church. We have Bible School, we have Sunday school and we have all kinds of kids programs on our property. So, I’m asking you tonight to just seek your heart in the decisions you are trying to make.”
Per the request of Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston, the county commissioners tabled the first reading of proposed changes to the beer and wine and distilled spirits ordinances as Blackston stated he had some concerns he would like to discuss with the county attorney. Blackston explained there are two main items he wants to revisit, one deals with a grandfather clause for stores with a package license and the other deals with the proximity an establishment can be to housing authorities.
A grandfather clause allows an existing establishment to continue to operate even if a county ordinance is changed. For example, if there is a convenience store that has a license to sell beer and wine and it is located far enough away from a church or school (per the ordinance), then it cannot be forced to change what is sold in the store if a church or school were to move into the area since it was there first. Blackston told the board he noticed there seems to be some difference in what the county allows as opposed to what the state allows and he wants to double check things with the county attorney before proceeding.
The other issue Blackston brought up was in reference to housing authorities in the distilled spirits ordinances. He stated the ordinance says there are no housing authorities in the county; however, that is not the case.
“You say we don’t have any in Upson County, but yet we do,” said Blackston. “The county joins with the city and we have to think about that.”
He elaborated saying that while the public housing is located within the city, the city limits and the county limits adjoin together which could mean an establishment selling distilled spirits could be located closer than allowed. The rest of the board agreed the first reading of the proposed changes should be tabled until they have had a chance to figure out if further changes need to be made.
In other business, County Manager Jim Wheeless told the board he had met with Upson County Tax Commissioner Berry Cook when he brought the tax digest over to the county. Cook stated there was a need for a rollback from the general fund for the millage rate from 11.13 to 11.02 due to an increase in property values in the city and a decrease of property values in the county. Wheeless noted for this year, the board would be starting at 11.02 for the general millage rate and if they were to leave it at that or go lower, they would not have to hold any public hearings. However, if they raised the millage rate any they would. The commissioners held a special called meeting on Thursday, August 20 to tentatively set the millage rate, however the decision on the rate had not been made as of press time.
Also during the meeting, the board held the first reading of proposed changes made to the Agricultural Residential (A-R) zoning ordinance. The changes include adding a section for agritourism, defined as any agriculture related activity on a minimum of five acres which is used as a bona fide farm or ranch, or a working farm which allows members of the general public for recreation, entertainment or education purposes to view and enjoy activities including farm ranching, historical, cultural or harvesting your own types of attractions. The ordinance would state that activities such as, but not limited to, farmers markets, rodeos, corn field mazes, pumpkin patches, Christmas tree farms, vineyards, wineries, petting zoos, camping and similar use and activities.
The board also proposed adding to the section which outline legally permitted uses for the A-R zoning to include: Those permitted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for wildlife storage, limited process and cold storage; Legally permitted custom feral swine, and custom licenses for swine, cattle, sheep, goats, large birds such as emu or ostrich slaughter and processing facilities, not to include slaughter houses; Raising quail, pheasant, partridge, wild turkey and other game birds licensed only where required; Agriculture related auctions such as livestock or produce licensed only where required; and licensed hunting and shooting preserves for permitted use in special sections for indoor/outdoor events and venues. The second reading of the proposed changes will be held at the next board of commission meeting on Tuesday, August 25.
Commissioner Steve Hudson told the board he is concerned about reports of there being a shooting range at a deer camp near Sprewell Bluff. Planning and Zoning Director Doug Currier, II, stated shooting ranges are not allowed in the zoning for deer camps and there are only two legal camps in the county which are not located near the park. Hudson stated he feels that is too close to the park for there to be a shooting range and it is something the county should look into.
Finally, the commissioners appointed Thomas Craig to serve on the Department of Family and Children Services board.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1