published Thursday, April 11th, 2013

North Georgia officials try to loosen alcohol restrictions

ONLINE

The online petition to legalize liquor by the drink in LaFayette is at www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/636/316/570/

Efforts are afoot in Walker County, Ga., and LaFayette, its county seat, to loosen restrictions on alcohol.

Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell may put Sunday alcohol sales on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Meanwhile, an online petition drive aims to encourage the LaFayette City Council to let restaurants sell distilled liquor by the glass.

Heiskell said Walker County convenience store owners -- who now can sell beer and wine, but not liquor -- have requested Sunday sales because they've been losing business to convenience stores in neighboring Catoosa County, Ga. Voters there in November approved Sunday retail sales of beer and wine and Sunday restaurant sales of beer, wine and liquor.

Heiskell said she's floated the idea of putting Sunday sales on the ballot at three recent community meetings, and "so far, everybody's said yes."

"I don't have a problem putting it on the ballot," Heiskell said. "It might not pass. I'm just going to give [voters] the chance."

LaFayette liquor?

Michael Lovelady, owner of One-Eleven Restaurant and Chattanooga Street Tavern in LaFayette, is promoting a petition that he found at thepetitionsite.com that calls for the city to legalize liquor by the glass.

"We saw that somebody had started one for LaFayette and had not really done anything with it," said Lovelady, who linked to the petition on his restaurants' social media sites.

Diners, especially those from out of town who are visiting One-Eleven, are surprised that they're able to have beer and wine, but not cocktails, Lovelady said.

The online petition had 128 signatures Wednesday afternoon, and Lovelady said a paper copy at his Chattanooga Street Tavern had about the same number.

He plans to ask the City Council to put the liquor-by-the-glass proposal before voters.

Lovelady doesn't plan to ask the City Council about Sunday sales of beer, wine or liquor, all of which are prohibited in LaFayette.

"Typically, the restaurants are not open on Sundays, anyway," he said.

Heiskell said she's heard there's another petition drive to put a liquor sales referendum before county voters, too.

"Every city and county in Georgia has to hold a referendum to sell liquor," she said. "We've never had a referendum on it, ever."

Heiskell may opt to put the question of liquor sales before county voters; she has until August to draft ballot questions.

LaFayette had a liquor referendum that failed, Heiskell said, as did the former city of Linwood, which LaFayette annexed after Linwood was overwhelmed by financial problems. Heiskell remembers that Linwood officials proposed retail liquor sales as a last-ditch effort to boost city revenue, and it failed by a small margin.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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