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.
Also on Tuesday, council approved a license to sell beer, wine and liquor for on-premises consumption at Don Julio’s Authentic Restaurant and Cantina, 485 Veterans Parkway North. No one voiced opposition.
In other action Tuesday, the council heard from the Rev. Rufus Jolly, who raised three issues:
• He urged the city to arrange transportation service from Moultrie to Tifton and Albany, where local residents must go to catch a bus or airplane. City Manager Pete Dillard said he has routinely approached Steven Gaines of Greyhound Bus Lines about use of the Intermodal Transportation Facility, but while Gaines has shown interest, even visiting the site, he has not seen how to make the arrangement work for his company yet, Dillard said.
• Debris continues to pile up on city streets, Jolly said. The city has only one street sweeper, and Jolly urged the council to at least rent a second one until it can afford to buy one.
• Jolly described an agreement from several years ago in which he said city crews would collect cut limbs and similar trash from Strong Memorial Gardens on Sixth Avenue Southeast. He said volunteers have recently cleaned several of the lots at the cemetery, but the debris they piled up has not been picked up by the city.