Albemarle City Council rejects amendment to allow downtown bars

ALBEMARLE — In a narrow decision at the Albemarle City Council’s recent meeting, the council voted 4-3 against adopting a text amendment to the city’s code of ordinances that would allow bars in downtown Albemarle under a special use permit. 

The city currently only permits full-service restaurants to sell liquor in its central business district while also prohibiting liquor sales at breweries and taprooms. 

Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall and council members Bill Aldridge, David Hunt and Chris Bramlett opposed the ordinance, while Benton Dry, Chris Whitley and Dexter Townsend voted for it.  

The city’s planning and zoning board had previously voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the special use permit amendment.  

Bramlett was clear about where he stood on the issue: “I don’t see a bar as being anywhere but a place to go get drunk. I don’t like that in downtown, and I don’t like that anywhere in this area.” 

Prior to the vote on the board’s approved amendment, the council opened up a public hearing in order to receive feedback on the issue.  

Badin Brews owner Joshua Hicks made his case for allowing bars in the downtown, saying that the focus city leaders have spotlighted on its new social district should come with loosened restrictions to help business owners and to promote city growth.” 

“I don’t intend my place to become a nightclub. I don’t intend it to be an eyesore to downtown,” Hicks said. “I want it to be something profitable for me and the businesses that are around me. Hilltop Seafood has profited greatly from me being next door, and a lot of people bring in food from next door when they’re there to enjoy the beverages with their friends. We lose a lot of people downtown to Locust and to The Boat House (in Norwood), and we need to keep downtown to help it grow. I just hope you will see it the same way.” 

Hicks also cited The Brew Room’s success as a new bar in Locust. 

Joy Almond, director for the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation and manager of Main Street, also spoke in favor of allowing bars in the downtown area. 

“Now that we have the social district, it is really working — as Mr. Hicks has mentioned — and it’s working so well for the businesses here in downtown Albemarle,” Almond said. “It enables the full-service restaurants to send the patrons out the door with to-go mixed beverages that contain liquor, and it leaves our taprooms and breweries that may want to serve liquor at a disadvantage to provide the same beverages under the current ordinance.” 

While the new text amendment for downtown bars ultimately failed to get enough votes, it could reappear in the future in one way or another as the general public and the council members reflect on the current decision.  

The next Albemarle City Council meeting is set for June 5.