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Public can weigh in on alcohol by drink
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Alcohol by the drink in unincorporated Newton County is moving toward a vote in November, but first the public will have a chance to comment on the proposed ordinance, which will strictly control where alcohol sales are allowed.

Public hearings will be held at 6 p.m., June 11 and at 10 a.m., June 16 at the Historic Courthouse.

Alcohol by the drink refers to the sale of individual drinks in restaurants, and county commissioners have been debating the ordinance that would control where such restaurants could be placed and how close they could be located to places like churches and schools.

Commissioners Tim Fleming, Nancy Schulz and Lanier Sims have all expressed support for alcohol by the drink, which gives the issue the majority support it needs to be placed on the November ballot for a public vote.

As of now, the ordinance would only allow alcohol sales in portions of the Almon Road corridor and in the Stanton
Springs industrial park, which is undeveloped but is expected to eventually house residential and retail uses, in addition to industries, including Baxter International.

In addition, residents will also likely be asked to vote on:
• Sunday sales for alcohol by the drink
• Sunday package sales of alcohol (currently, package sales are allowed in unincorporated Newton County Monday through Saturday)

"Depending on the comments at the public meetings, we may need to have one last work session before it is placed on the board of commissioners' agenda; however, we will need to vote not later than July 17th to meet the requirements by law, or a special meeting will be required," Chairman Kathy Morgan said in an email.

County attorney Jenny Carter said in an email that the board of commissioners can adopt a resolution any time between June 5 and July 17. After that, the board of elections would have to issue the call for a referendum to be placed on the ballot before July 31.

As the board of commissioners did previously with the Almon Road corridor, the county is working to develop a zoning overlay for the Salem Road corridor. The overlay is designed to direct future growth in those areas, including the development of a town center area where commercial development and mixed-use commercial-residential development will be located.

If the public approves alcohol by the drink, the plan is for alcohol to be able to be sold in the commercial areas along Salem Road in the future.

County commissioners have been purposeful in their effort to restrict the sale of alcohol, as they want to make Newton County an option for national restaurant chains that sell alcohol while preventing the formation of bars.

Morgan said Saturday she hopes to have a final work session on alcohol by the drink at 6 p.m. June 19, prior to the board's regularly scheduled meeting, where the board could finally vote on the topic.