published Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Alcohol sales ban prompts request to deannex land

  • photo
    A sign marks beer and wine regulations at Costco in Fort Oglethorpe.
    Photo by Angela Lewis /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Supporters of Sunday alcohol sales in Fort Oglethorpe had a "told you so" moment Monday night.

One of the arguments made for legalizing alcohol on Sunday is that without it, restaurants and retailers would try to peel off from Fort Oglethorpe and become part of Catoosa County, Ga., or the city of Ringgold, Ga. -- where voters approved Sunday sales in November.

That prediction came true at Monday night's City Council meeting.

Because Sunday alcohol sales are banned in Fort Oglethorpe, Northwest Georgia Bank asked to deannex 42 acres it owns on Battlefield Parkway east of Dietz Road to the county.

"It's purely economics and what we need to do on behalf of our shareholders," bank Executive Vice President Kerry Riley said Tuesday.

The bank is in negotiations to sell the acreage to a developer subject to the availability of Sunday sales, Riley said.

Councilman Earl Gray made a motion to vote on the bank's deannexation request, but it died for lack of support by the other councilmen.

The bank's next step, Riley said, will be to ask the Georgia General Assembly to de-annex the property from Fort Oglethorpe.

Riley doesn't know what restaurants the developer has in mind for the acreage.

"I haven't the foggiest idea," he said. "The developer has all the contacts."

Riley said he doesn't know of any corporate chain restaurants that would want to locate in a community that restricts Sunday alcohol sales when they could choose a site nearby that doesn't.

"Why would they go somewhere they have greater restrictions?" he asked.

November vote?

Fort Oglethorpe voters may get the chance to vote on Sunday sales in November, depending on the outcome of a March 19 election to fill the seat left vacant when Councilman Eddie Stinnett died suddenly in November of a heart attack.

Candidate Judd Burkhart, a former mayor and councilman, supports putting Sunday sales on the November ballot. Burkhart, incumbent Councilman Hal Gray and Mayor Lynn Long would give the measure the three votes it needs.

"I'll be the tie-breaker, and I will vote to put it on the ballot," Long said Tuesday, anticipating two "no" votes from staunch anti-alcohol Councilmen Louis Hamm and Johnnie "Red" Smith.

Candidate Clay Kissner, who's making his first bid for public office, isn't sure that the Sunday sales question needs to go before Fort Oglethorpe voters in November because they turned it down in 2011.

"I'm not 100 percent against it," Kissner said. "I'm not one of those guys who's never going to put it on the ballot."

But Kissner said he doesn't see the need to put it on the ballot based on one request for deannexation.

"If it starts happening all over town and restaurants are leaving, that would be an eye-opener," he said. "Then the people definitely need to vote on it."

Regardless, the bank will proceed with de-annexation efforts, Riley said, because it can't count on Sunday sales getting on the ballot or passing if they do.

"We can't afford to take that chance," he said.

"It's not because we don't like the city of Fort Oglethorpe. Quite the contrary," Riley said, noting that the bank has two branches in the city.

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 township┬╣s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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