Hampton Council to vote on alcohol

By Monroe Roark Times Correspondent

On a night when so many people were having adult beverages over a romantic dinner at restaurants everywhere, at least a hundred people crowded into the depot in Hampton to debate when and where such drinks should be served in the city.

At issue was a proposed new ordinance that would allow consumption of alcoholic beverages in public outdoor spaces in the city at specific events and with prior city approval. Currently no alcohol consumption is allowed in Hampton outside of eating establishments that meet certain minimum seating requirements.

The Feb. 14 regular monthly meeting of the City Council was moved to the depot from the regular council chambers precisely because of this issue, and the depot was filled with citizens, city manager Daryl Dotschay said late last week.

The first reading of the ordinance passed 4-3 as Mayor Steve Hutchison cast the tiebreaking vote. Also voting in favor were Chris Moore, Mary Ann Mitcham and Ann Tarpley. Voting against were Henry Byrd, Charlie Hearn and Marty Meeks.

The Times reached out to all seven elected officials for comment. As of press time only Meeks had done so.

Meeks relayed a number of questions he posed at the meeting as well as ordinances from Atlanta, Fayetteville and Savannah governing similar situations. Among other things, he asked whether individuals would be allowed to bring their own beverages to events, whether someone from another municipality could dispense beverages at city events, whether the people selling drinks at events would need identification, and what the process would be for approving those who would sell alcohol.

“If this ordinance is passed and blanket permission is given for the possession of open containers and consumption of alcoholic beverages on certain public properties, what justification will the Council have to deny a request without the appearance of preferential treatment?” he asked. “For instance, why should one business with a valid city pouring license be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages in open containers for consumption on public property and any other business that has a valid city pouring license be denied? True, it can be said the Yellow Pollen Festival, for instance, seeks to avoid duplication of vendors but doesn't this seem like a special advantage is being given and what about other events?”

Questions were also raised about possible security issues, including citizens with permits carrying firearms, and whether children would be allowed with their parents in an “adult section” of an event.

Citizens were also invited via the Times’ Facebook to share their opinions and concerns on the issue.

Hampton resident and previous City Council candidate Brent Winner, who did not attend the meeting, was not at the meeting but was at a meeting last summer where the subject of alcohol “was discussed pretty heatedly as it related to the concert series Hampton hosted.” According to Winner, the discussion centered on the possibility of naming it the Jailhouse Brewery Concert Series and the question was raised as to whether the city wanted to be known for alcohol.

“I have no problem with Sunday sales - Sunday by the drink - sales at the festival,” he said. “The usual crowd lead by Mr. Hearn and Mr. Meeks continue to bring end of the world predictions if we allow people to make a choice about whether to buy an alcoholic beverage or not.”

Dotschay said the issue came up initially when organizers of the Yellow Pollen Festival, scheduled this year for March 18, requested that a section of Cherry Street be cordoned off for alcohol beverage consumption. When that request was questioned by a number of a people, the organizers took it off the table under the realization that the Yellow Pollen Festival is already known as a family-friendly event, and that led to the request for a general ordinance that could be used to govern future events.

The second reading of the ordinance, and the ensuing vote to pass or fail the measure, is scheduled to come at the council’s March 14 regular meeting. Dotschay said he expects that gathering to be in the depot as well.