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Photo courtesy of Walker County Government / Dozens of people filled the audience at a Feb. 13, 2020 commission meeting, most of whom spoke out against adding a ballot question that would allow voters to decide whether or not restaurants could serve alcohol within 300 feet of a church.

At a standing-room-only meeting Thursday night, Walker County, Georgia, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield decided not to sign a resolution that would have added a ballot question for the May election to ask voters whether the county should allow restaurants to serve alcohol within 150 feet of a church.

The decision by Whitfield should be the bookend to an extended back and forth between him and his economic development team and members of the public who feared the change could hurt the sanctity of places of worship.

Nearly 20 people spoke at Thursday's meeting where Whitfield was planning to sign the resolution. The public let Whitfield and the county government employees there know how they felt about the possibility of the law changing.

At the the end of the meeting, it was clear their words swayed the commissioner.

It was the second time in as many months that Whitfield changed course on the ordinance after hearing from constituents.

After a second public hearing where dozens of people spoke out against the change, Whitfield and other county officials announced that it would be better suited for the public to decide on the issue in a vote.

Voters were set to decide whether restaurants within 150 feet of a church should be allowed to sell alcohol by the drink. The current law prohibits restaurants from selling within 300 feet.

Whitfield said in a statement that he decided on the ballot question as a compromise between those who wanted to eliminate all distance requirements and those who want the 300-foot buffer to remain.

The change was originally proposed in December to mirror an updated state law. Whitfield had said the move was a business-friendly change first proposed by the owners of Five Points Farm House.

The restaurant owners reached out to the county and said they felt hampered by the county rule that prohibited them from selling alcohol.

Five Points Farm House is located about 20 yards from Chickamauga city limits and just under 300 feet from a nearby church.

In January, a few people spoke out against the changes. One of them was Rick Tallent, a pastor in Walker County. Tallent said Whitfield was trying to rush the process and that he doubted any pastor in the county would be in favor of the change.

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

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