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HIGH SPRINGS – An alcohol ordinance that has been reviewed and changed several times over the last year may get yet more changes.  During a brief workshop on Feb. 16, High Springs commissioners debated whether or not the city’s law governing establishments serving and selling alcohol needed to be adjusted again.

At issue is a rule in the ordinance that requires an establishment selling alcohol be at least 500 feet from a church and 600 feet from a public or private school.  Those distance requirements had been removed in the summer of 2011.  They were reinstated, however, at the behest of Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Gestrin during a Dec. 8, 2011 meeting.  Commissioner Sue Weller and then Commissioner Eric May opposed that measure.

Weller cited concerns at the Feb. 16 workshop that the current ordinance presents a problem to property and business owners.  Under the current law, if a church or school were to locate within the distance requirements of a business selling alcohol, that establishment could only continue to sell the alcohol as long as it is operated continuously and is not sold.  Weller contends that the city would effectively being tying the hands of businesses.

Davis, meanwhile, suggested that “temporary” churches would not have the ability to affect an existing establishment.

“We cannot expect as a church community for somebody to spend as much money as has been spent in High Springs on some restaurants, several million dollars, and then a little church move in next door to them and tell them they have to shut down,” Davis said.

He said distinguishing a church that might rent space as a “temporary church” would prevent any confusion.

Speaking to Weller’s concerns, Davis said, “I think it’s a non-problem,” adding, “We’ll deal with it when the problem comes up.”

Weller, on the other hand, said that by the time it comes up, it may be too late.

City Attorney Raymond Ivey agreed with Weller in part, noting that he also didn’t believe the City could make a distinction between a temporary church and permanent church.

As the discussions evolved, so too did the potential changes to the ordinance, as Barnas suggested creating a downtown zone that would allow a business selling alcohol to continue doing so even if it were sold or not continuously operating, even if a church were to locate within the distance requirements.

That begged another question from Weller.  “Why would we want to limit it to the downtown area,” she asked.

“What’s the difference between downtown and 441,” she further inquired.

Gestrin meanwhile said she didn’t want to specifically address the alcohol ordinance.  “We are dealing with the land development code and Comprehensive Plan issues, not just this one ordinance,” Gestrin said, adding, “I feel like we need to address the whole pie.”

Gestrin, who approved the latest round of changes to the alcohol ordinance, appeared to regard the issue as a low priority.

“We need to keep this on the back burner and move forward with the things that are crucial,” she said.

Ivey said he would review the ordinance and the land development code and return to the commission with suggested changes that might remedy the matter.