MOULTRIE, Ga. — For the first time in possibly years, an alcohol license faced opposition before the Moultrie City Council Tuesday evening.
Sonal Patel sought the license to sell beer and wine at Fast Fuel, 1520 Fourth Ave. N.E., but a church building is across the street.
The congregation of Grace Freewill Baptist Church voted to disband in May, according to Bonnie Sisk, one of the former members, who spoke at the city council meeting.
The church is in the process of selling the building to another congregation. A member of the group buying the church, Rafael Luna, said their biggest concern is the sale of alcohol so close while children are in the church yard.
Jody Weathers, an attorney representing Patel at Tuesday’s meeting, said the store owner has no intention of selling beer and wine on Sunday, and especially not during the time of worship services.
Luna said his congregation has been meeting for eight months, but not in the building that Grace Freewill Baptist Church is selling. He said they’ve arranged financing but the sale has not closed yet.
That’s important. City ordinance forbids the sale of alcohol within a certain distance of a house of worship — unless the alcohol-selling establishment was there first. According to city attorney Mickey Waller, the ordinance defines a house of worship as one at which worship services are regularly held. Grace Freewill Baptist hasn’t held worship services since May, and the other group hasn’t started meeting there because they don’t own the building yet.
Sisk struggled to follow the logic in that.
“When you put a house up for sale, it’s still a house when it’s purchased,” she said. “When you sell the House of the Lord, it’s still the House of the Lord until you do something different with it.”
The city council voted to approve the alcohol license. Councilwoman Lisa Clarke Hill cast the only vote against approval.
The former R&R Quick Mart is located at 1524 Fourth Ave. N.E. It closed after being damaged by fire in June 2016, but plans had already been announced to expand it onto adjacent land that the Patel family also owned.
Weathers said those plans are still in effect. Most of the existing building will be torn down and a new building will be in place within 90 days of starting work, he said. The proposed layout will place the store farther from the church.