MILTON — During a Thursday Committee of the Whole meeting, the City Council decided to change language of a city ordinance, allowing churches the option to serve or sell alcohol on their premises.
At the Aug. 17 Committee of the Whole meeting, Monsignor Michael Reed of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church approached the council requesting clarification on laws that stated alcohol cannot be served within 500 feet of a house of worship.
Reed wanted to have the option to serve alcohol at wedding receptions, wine tastings and other events; however, this would call for a change to the city’s ordinance.
City staff came up with four options for the alcohol ordinance.
The first option would be to do nothing and keep the ordinance as is, stating that selling or consuming alcoholic beverages within 500 feet of a house of worship is prohibited.
The second would be to only exempt churches from the ordinance, allowing churches to obtain up to 12 temporary alcohol licenses annually for three-day periods.
The third option would be to exempt churches and others, allowing churches and others to obtain up to 12 temporary alcohol licenses annually for three-day periods, subject to the consent of the church. This change could allow vendors with an alcohol license to sell alcohol within 500 feet of a church, if the church OKs it. According to City Attorney Heather Lindsay, this change would need legal review as she is not sure the city has the ability to subordinate consent to a religious institution.
The fourth option would give churches the ability to determine if the current ordinance applies to their congregation and the surrounding area. If a church determined they no longer desired the protection the code currently provides, they could “opt out” and allow alcohol within 500 feet of their premises.
Councilman Casey Powell said he disagreed with the third option because the city can’t allow a church to make decisions for others.
Councilwoman Sharon Holley said she didn’t agree with the fourth option, because she didn’t want to speak for future generations of a church; if the current congregation decides to opt out of the ordinance, allowing alcohol within 500 feet of their house of worship, those who come to the church years later may not agree. According to Planning Director Randy Jorgenson, nothing would stop future generations from changing the ordinance again to fit their desires.
According to City Manager Brian Watkins, if a bar or restaurant that serves alcohol opens next door to a church that has opted out of the ordinance, and they later decide to opt back in, the bar or restaurant cannot be told to cease the sale of alcohol because it was established while the ordinance was not in place.
The city staff recommended the fourth option, to reconstruct the ordinance language to allow churches the option to opt out of the ordinance if they so choose. Councilman Alan Lowery made the motion to have staff change the ordinance to reflect the recommendation, and Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson seconded the motion.
The motion passed with only Holley and Councilwoman Pat Lunsford opposed. Councilwomen Ashley Lay and Peggi Smith, and Councilman Jeff Snow were absent from the vote. The first reading of the new ordinance will be during the Sept. 26 City Council meeting.