Drinking on the Church's Front Steps

Drinking on the Church's Front Steps

Postby Nick Della Volpe » Thu Nov 17, 2016 12:01 pm

Should the 300 ft rule be repealed?
Be careful what you wish for.

Churches help nourish the healthy side of our contemplative life, and usually reinforce the ethics of a community. They also serve a communal function hosting learning activities, boy scout groups, and other people gathering events like neighborhood meetings, fund raising for disaster relief, or just helping poor families get a Thanksgiving or Christmas basket to help them celebrate together. They often have day care and recreation areas for children.
You don't have to be a "believer" to appreciate their contribution to our society.

Some say times they are a changin'. The rule is 55 years old and is now dated. The reality they say is there are more modern churches that elect to locate in shopping centers and strip malls. Might be a good place for a start up, you don't have to build an grand edifice. A dozen or so of these modern churches have raised a concern that the 300 ft rule for beer licenses -- i.e., restricting location of on-premise beer sales and consumption to a distance greater 300 ft from a church. They say that restricts access to empty storefronts, with decent rents, where they could start-up a church or provide a lower-cost facility for their services. Landlords might be reluctant to rent to them out of concern that they might other lose beer-serving tenants to rent there. Others say, why fight this, one can beat the local law by getting a less-restrictive State Liquor license. Cities can't overrule the state law.

The rule is hardly onerous. 300 feet is a short distance--sort of two doors down in a typical residential neighborhood.

Tread softly. There is value in having safe havens for people to gather, and pray or play. If you have to change the rule, keep the intrusion minimal.

I have also heard from a number of more traditional churches saying: don't drop the 300 ft. Rule Keep our churches safe community centers.
If some on council are swayed by the arguments of storefront churches or shopping center real estate brokers, they should limit any changes, for now, to exempt storefront shopping center churches from the distance rule.

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.
Nick Della Volpe
Posts: 110
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:00 pm

Re: Drinking on the Church's Front Steps

Postby Nick Della Volpe » Mon Nov 21, 2016 1:14 pm

Here is the substance of what one Knoxville citizen wrote in reply to a city Council member's position re ditching the time-honored 300-foot church activity protection rule:

"Please allow me to offer a few thoughts concerning the stated situations from your email.

If applicants can obtain a beer permit for a location within the 300’ radius by obtaining a state permit, then why are we as a city not seeking to lobby the state to close this loop hole? As stated in the comment period in the last council meeting most cities in Tennessee have similar distance requirements in place already, why does Knoxville have to be the vanguard in removing these boundaries as opposed to being the leader in strengthening the boundary? I realize that there is a burgeoning alcohol industry, but is this the industry that we want to have as the cornerstone for our city? Are we willing to ignore the numerous problems created by alcohol in favor of a short term economic benefit?

There is a trend for some congregations to locate satellite and church plants in former commercial spaces. However, there are approximately 480 churches in Knoxville and I doubt that there are more than a handful that are actively seeking to move into storefront locations. Should we be running after this change for the benefit of a few while placing the many in a bind? As I shared before, there are churches who run daycare centers and schools on their property, have Scout meetings and sports practices that run all through the week. How does the city plan to address this situation? I am also curious as to why this boundary change involves only churches? If this change is so simple and logical, then why not simply remove the boundary from day care centers, funeral homes and schools as well as churches? Why have churches been singled out for the removal of the boundary?

Concerning point number three, the solution to this potential legal quagmire created by granting churches beer permits while excluding businesses is simple. Do not allow churches to have beer permits. I am perplexed as to why a beer permit would ever be issued to a church in the first place! I completely agree that it is unfair to issue these permits for churches and not businesses, but instead of removing this thin veil of protection from over 400 local city churches why not simply say no to the two to four churches requesting this permit. Sometimes it is okay to say no and this is one of those times.
I was not aware of this particular detail concerning the boundary being from structure corner to structure corner. With this knowledge I would advocate for expanding the boundary or amending the boundary from structure corner to structure corner to property line and property line.

I understand the fact that approximately fifteen churches have signed on to support this boundary removal. However, what about the 465 other churches in the city of Knoxville? Should these fifteen churches be allowed to set a shortsighted city wide policy for the other 465 churches in the city of Knoxville? How will this proposed change impact local churches who have had a stable presence in our community for many years? This ordinance attempts to clear the way for temporary churches who move into a storefront location for a few years and then move on when the either outgrow the space or fade away, but it places in harms’ way established churches who have invested in our community for generations. I also understand that maybe the council has apparently not heard from these other churches, but what if they have not heard of this proposed change? Personally I have seen only three articles and an opinion piece in two local papers. Again I am left to wonder as to why the sudden urgency to move on this matter involving only churches?

I realize from the tone of the meeting last week that the decision to remove the boundary has already probably been decided, but the above questions and concerns are no less valid. In my opinion this selective removal is very shortsighted and not in the best interests of the churches or our city. It places our community and our children at risk. Any potential economic gain is worthless if one child is harmed in any way as a result of this removal."

I think he is right on. Wake up city council!I
IF you must tinker with anything-- And I'm not saying you should-- then limit any change to an exception for storefront churches seeking to locate in a commercial strip development or commercial mall. Back off any generic change to the rule. You are undermining the fabric of our community. How many threads can you cut before the whole thing begins to unravel?
Nick Della Volpe
Posts: 110
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:00 pm

Re: Drinking on the Church's Front Steps

Postby Nick Della Volpe » Tue Nov 22, 2016 1:10 pm

SAFETY of CHILDREN in and around the church is a legitimate concern of regular churches, which host community activities. Children often meet there and are engaged in activities at the church, as noted by the note writer below. It behooves Knoxville to keep those safe places safe.

The constituent wrote in part:
"Tonight you will once again vote on removing the "beer ban" distance from churches. I implore you to keep the ban in place. I understand that removing the ban would impact the economy in a potentially positive way. However, is the increased revenue worth a child or adult's life? I ask this because at some point in time, a child or adult will be attending a function at a church and will cross paths with a violent, intoxicated person. No one wants to think of this happening, but it will. At my church (which is situated in a neighborhood), we have experienced disruptions in services due to intoxicated persons. We have also dealt with stealing and vandalism multiple times over the past year. That does not mean that we are bitter; we are not. We welcome those in the community who have drug and alcohol issues. We want to help those who are hurting. However, we do not want to see an increase of crime. We want to provide a safe place for our children.

Children and teens are present in churches all over Knoxville at various times throughout the week. Most churches host youth groups, mother's day out programs, sports practices, home school groups, Girl and Boy Scout groups, schools, etc. on a regular basis, so children would be present more than simply Sunday morning services. If you will not remove this protection from schools and day care centers, why would you remove it from churches, where children are also prevalent?

While I understand that approximately 4 churches have requested beer permits and 19 have requested that the ban be lifted, there are approximately 480 churches in Knoxville. To put is statistically, less than 5% of the community is in favor of removing the ban. I understand that not every church has voiced an opinion, but I believe that most churches would favor keeping the ban. Please recognize that favoring the few would lead to unwanted, unanticipated consequences for all, placing the lives of children and adults in unnecessary danger.

I would also request that you think of all of the AA and Al-Anon groups that meet at churches. They choose to meet at locations that are away from the influence of alcohol. Lifting the beer ban will remove the safe space that these organizations have found in churches."
Q. So ask yourself, what is driving this wholesale dumping of the 300 ft rule? The request of a few storefront churches seeking better rent, or location choices? The strip mall and shopping center lobbyists? A board of realtors? A wave of anti-religious sentiment or progressive fervor (you know, stop them from "clinging to their guns and their bibles")? Or just an over-reaction to a fair request of a few modern church groups?

Whatever the origin, I submit that at most, Council could simply add a modest proviso to the existing text of the ordinance, which protects church buildings by imposing the 300 ft distance restriction:
[b]"provided however, such 300 ft restriction on church buildings is hereby waived for storefront churches located in commercial malls, strip malls or other commercial buildings located in a commercial zone."[b]

A narrowly-tailored fix is best in such delicate circumstances.
Nick Della Volpe
Posts: 110
Joined: Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:00 pm

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