City votes to amend entertainment zone ordinance, then approves it

Published 12:30 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — A full house welcomed the Americus Mayor and City Council Thursday for its monthly meeting. With two public hearings and five speakers on the agenda, it was a lengthy meeting.
By far the two hot topics were the alcohol ordinance’s requirement for all employees who serve or sell alcohol to get a background check (at a cost of $39.50), and the requirement of soundproofing for businesses in the Entertainment Overlay Districts.
Two of the alcoholic beverage license holders who spoke, Dash Patel and Wayne Bowers, asked that the city reconsider the requirement for background checks. Patel said, “It is hurting our pockets and our help. It’s hard to get honest employees here.” He said his request for a change in the ordinance is “humble.” Bowers took a more spirited approach, saying that he feels like the alcoholic beverage license holders are being “isolated.” “Why doesn’t every business in Americus have to have background checks?” he asked, adding that as an independent merchant he cannot afford to keep paying for background checks. “I’m hurting,” he said, “and I’m wasting money on this.” Mayor Barry Blount reminded Bowers that the ordinance doesn’t state that the employer has to pay for the background check; the person applying for the job can pay for it. “Most folks don’t have the money,” Bowers said. “I don’t have time to work 70 to 80 hours a week and come to council meetings.”
Bowers continued, “People in this community need jobs, and this (requirement) takes jobs away from people. This is a crime-ridden and poverty community, and ya’ll need to help us today, not tomorrow, but now.” When Bowers left the speaker’s podium, the audience clapped and cheered. The mayor used his seldom used gavel and told them to “settle down.”
Another speaker, Nirav Patel, asked what they, the license holders could do. The mayor said this has been an 18-month process and they are revamping the entire alcoholic beverage ordinance. Patel said that not all alcohol license holders received the packets the city sent out. Council member Shirley Green Reese told Patel they appreciated him coming to the meeting and that council would “look at it thoroughly,” which was met by applause from the dozen or so alcohol license holders present. The mayor said they can bring it back up at the next agenda setting meeting in August.
In the public hearing for the annexation of 139 Parkers Mill Creek Road, land owner Josh Roth was the only speaker for the annexation and there were none against. The council voted to suspend the rules and unanimously approved the request later in the meeting.
There was also a public hearing on the Entertainment Overlay District Ordinance. This will provide for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2:30 a.m. and closing by 3 a.m. in certain areas of the city, and will required business owners to soundproof their buildings.
A local business owner, Carmen Mansfield, addressed the council, requesting that her business be included. Located on Bay Street, it is not in the districts being voted on. Two other people also spoke.  Roderick Coleman said he and his business partner intend to open a new establishment because of the ordinance. Matt Polk Jr. said he intends to open a sports bar and grill on North Jackson. The mayor explained that North Jackson Street has residential areas in it and that the public hearing was to hear people for and/or against the ordinance as it is written now, not to hear requests for deviation.
None spoke against the ordinance.
Council voted to suspend the rules and take action at Thursday’s meeting. Council member Daryl Dowdell said the soundproofing was “a concern” for him because of the added expense to the business owners.
City attorney Jimmy Skipper explained that if there was a motion to amend the ordinance and seconded, council would have to vote on the amendment before going back to the proposed amendment as amended. Council member Lou Chase commented that she has no problem with the ordinance but her only concern was the hours of operation. “With the new ordinance in place,” she said, “if there are any problems, the ordinance will take care of it.”
Dowdell continued on soundproofing. “[Josh] Roth said the district would be isolated, so why is there a need for soundproofing?” The mayor explained that there are residential areas nearby. Dowdell made the motion to remove the requirement for soundproofing from the ordinance which was seconded by Council member Juanita Wilson who said, “We’re doing a lot of things to shut people out.” Green Reese said they still need to consider the residents. “We need to be on top of this before things happen, not after,” she said.
Dowdell asked Roth where were the residents were located. Roth said there are apartments near the old movie theater location and residences above Minick Interiors downtown. Chase asked Roth an approximate cost of soundproofing. Roth said they gave an approximate estimate on an existing wall that could be tar papered and then covered with half-inch insulation. Dowdell wanted to know if this would “guarantee soundproofing.” Chase commented that the city already has a noise ordinance on the books. Council member Nelson Brown said they need to be clear on whatever suggestions are made for soundproofing. Roth said there must 100 different ways to soundproof. Dowdell said he can’t agree with the soundproofing requirement because “this ordinance is for entertainment.” Chase said, “It’s good for the people on the inside having fun but not for the residents nearby.” The mayor said it is “ambiguous.” Roth said, “I wouldn’t fight for this, but ya’ll have to make the right decision.” Blount called it “too vague.”
The vote to amend the ordinance and leave out the soundproofing was taken. Dowdell, Wilson and Brown voted for, while Green Reese, Chase and Cook voted against. The mayor broke the tie by voting for the amendment. On the Entertainment Overlay District, Wilson made the motion to adopt, seconded by Dowdell and it passed unanimously.
City manager Steve Kennedy asked that the alcoholic beverage ordinance requirement for background checks not be discussed at the agenda setting meeting since he will not be present. “I have plans to be out-of-town,” he said, “and I want to be present when it is discussed because I’ve been involved with this from the beginning.” The mayor said they needed to “hold off.” Wilson suggested a called meeting to discuss the matter. Blount said they need to either hold off until September or have a called meeting.
Kennedy said, “This has been discussed a great deal and while I understand the concerns, we’ve done our part with the community, the same with the soundproofing. You all have to decide, but for something to get this far and then reconsider, that concerns me … It’s not something we just threw out and said let’s do this.”
Other items voted on by Council included the following.
• Approved Kathryn Mournighan’s application for a catering license for Center Stage Market, 121 W. Forsyth St., to allow for sales of alcohol off premises.
• Approves the purchase of the old grocery store building near the South Jackson Street train depot construction site from Patrick Investment Corporation of Cordele, for $30,500 minus the demolition cost of $25,867 (the lowest bid) which will also include removal of slab, foundation, asphalt and addition of seeding and straw. The City will also pay $900 earnest money as well as closing costs. Roth said they will need to have the property surveyed. The transaction will close within 30 days.
• Awarded the bid for utility billing bill printing services to Arista Information Systems based on pricing, structure, experience and familiarity at a cost savings of about $30,000.
• Approved a resolution authorizing RFP for an interactive voice response system (IVR).
• Approved the bid for street and storm drainage improvements for East Avenue in the amount of $496,375.02.
• Approved a traffic study and layout design for the next steps of the downtown streetscape project. Funding will be requested from an outside source.
• Approved reappointing Fred McLaughlin and Robert Harvey to the Hospital Authority.
• Ratified the mayoral reappointment of Ricky Arnold and Dwight Chavis to the Housing Authority of Americus.