From the Sentinel:

Panel says county can’t block Hwy. 92 liquor store
by Winston Jones
An arbitration board voted 4-1 Tuesday to deny Douglas County’s attempt to block a package liquor store from being built on land being proposed for city annexation.

Douglas County representatives argued that a proposed city annexation for a package liquor store would harm quality development along Fairburn Road.

The city of Douglasville countered that the business would fit within the current general commercial zoning and would make no significant difference in the neighborhood.

“The only thing this would change is that someone could sell a quart of whiskey instead of a six pack of beer,” said Joel Dodson, attorney for the city of Douglasville.

The county currently allows packages sales of beer and wine, as well as liquor by the drink at restaurants. However, package liquor stores have never been put to a vote in a required county referendum and are not allowed.

The arguments were made at a 2 p.m. meeting of a five-member arbitration panel convened to hear a city-county annexation dispute. The panel heard both the city and county presentations Tuesday. The panel had no power to block the annexation but it could have put stipulations on the annexation.

The 2.319 acres of property is located just outside the city of Douglasville at the intersection of Georgia Highway 92 (Fairburn Road) and Midway Road. Property owner Jack Richardson has applied for city annexation. He plans to sell the property to Nikishan, Inc. which intends to open a package liquor store at the location.

Douglas County Commission Chairman Tom Worthan, in testimony before the panel, argued that the property is located on a part of Fairburn Road which is part of a Living Centers Initiative (LCI) to make the area a “liveable, walkable neighborhood.”

He said a package liquor store would be out of character with residences behind the property.

“I don’t think it’s the type of area where we need a liquor store,” Worthan said. “We have an aging population, and we need more senior residential places. I don’t want them to have to walk by liquor stores.”

Douglas County Attorney Kelly Pridgen said a liquor store would add to the county’s law enforcement burden and bring increased traffic and crime, requiring more patrols.

“We’re asking that zoning stipulate no alcohol sales on the property,” Pridgen said. “We ask the panel to find that such property use would place a material burden on the county, if allowed.”

Dodson called Douglasville Police Chief Chris Womack to the stand, who testified that the city’s package liquor stores have very few calls for law enforcement intervention. Womack said the city’s current seven package stores average less than 20 calls per year, which is much lower than calls to convenience stores.

“In my 20 years experience, I don’t consider liquor stores a place for violent crime,” Womack said.

Dodson argued that a package liquor store would not result in any need for increased police service and would be “in perfect harmony with the neighborhood. I don’t think it would be out of place at all.”

A member of the audience attending the hearing told the panel that the two residences behind the property are separated by a wide border that includes 20-foot-high cypress trees.

The arbitration panel was composed of volunteer members from other municipalities, including two elected city officials, two elected county officials and one academic representative.

Worthan issued the following statement shortly after the board’s ruling Tuesday afternoon:

“Douglas County citizens have again had no say in what goes in next to their homes, due to the annexation by the city of Douglasville. A liquor store in the city that backs up to residential homes in the county is not quality development, and the city again showed its total disregard for the residents of the county by placing a business that encourages crime adjacent to a residential area by selective annexation.

Over the past two years, the residents of the Fairburn Road corridor have worked to create a plan that will make their community livable and sustainable with mixed-use development. The Livable Centers Initiative project along this corridor had the participation of residents and business owners, and the result was a plan of action that would ensure a better quality of life for this area.

The city of Douglasville, by selective annexation and the allowance of a liquor store where none would be allowed by the county, ignored the desires of those who live and work in this area. Package liquor stores are not allowed in the county, only in the city, and do not promote positive development – the extra security staff, the barred windows and the extensive interior and exterior security cameras testify to the atmosphere created by a liquor store.

The long-range goals and desires of the residents surrounding this selective annexation were ignored by the city. The county is committed to making our community better and more livable, and this annexation by the city of Douglasville and permitting of a liquor store does not move us in a positive direction.

The mayor and city council still have the opportunity to do the right thing by denying this annexation. Regardless, we will continue to strive for the quality of life of our citizens.”