Walker County Commissioner changes amendment alcohol ordinance after outcry

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield thumbnail

The message at the public hearing was clear: people in Walker County, Georgia, do not want alcohol to be sold close to places of worship.

That was the overwhelming sentiment at a recent Walker County hearing and it forced Commissioner Shannon Whitfield to make a change to a proposed amendment to the county's alcohol laws.

Over the holidays, the county sent out a notice of a public hearing for an ordinance amendment that would allow businesses to sell beer and wine within 300 feet of a church.

Whitfield said the amendment was introduced as a business-friendly change that would mirror a state law implemented a couple of years ago.

Walker County Economic Development Director Robert Wardlaw said the proposed change was made in large part after owners of the restaurant Five Points Farm House reached out and said they felt hampered by the county rule that prohibited them from selling alcohol.

The restaurant is located about 20 yards from Chickamauga city limits and just under 300 feet from a nearby church.

A few Walker County residents spoke out against the change at a meeting on Jan. 9, saying it would set a bad example for allowing packaged alcohol stores or taverns to operate so close to places of worship.

When the second public meeting came around, more than 40 people were in attendance, most of them against the changes for similar reasons.

After so many people voiced their concerns, Whitfield and his staff decided to reinstate the 300-foot distance requirement from churches for package sales.

The commissioner also decided to increase the distance requirement from churches and schools to 150 feet for alcohol sales by the drink. That way, restaurants such as Five Points Farm House can sell alcohol to their customers.

Ken Davis said at the first public hearing he didn't think Whitfield was "dumb enough to try this in the next two to three weeks," alluding that Whitfield could lose his seat as commissioner because of the amendment.

Other people at the second public hearing echoed Davis' comments.

Whitfield will make the final decision on the ordinance change at the commission's Thursday meeting.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.