Albemarle moves forward on proposed social district planning

ALBEMARLE — Following the mold set by cities like Charlotte and Kannapolis, Albemarle is working on the plans that would potentially set up a social district in the city’s downtown corridor, allowing people to buy alcoholic beverages from a business and enjoy them outside.  

If enacted, the social district would create an area in the city that would be safe to stroll while consuming a purchased beverage.  

Gaining preliminary approval by the Albemarle City Council in early February, this social district proposal was further discussed in a public input session held at the Albemarle City Hall on April 25. 

According to Joy Almond, director for the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation and manager of Main Street, the goal of the session was to allow the public to share feedback and ask questions following a presentation that discussed the map boundaries and specificities of the social district.  

Almond, Police Chief Jason Bollhorst, and Fire Chief Pierre Brewton were all on hand at the session to address the community. Among a crowd of around 20 people in the city hall, multiple local citizens spoke in favor of the social district idea while a few spoke against the idea, citing concerns of increased alcohol usage. 

The City of Albemarle will now take the feedback from the session and finalize the proposed ordinance, budget, district map and days of the week that the city would enforce the district. The city council is now expecting to vote on the combined package in May, with a secondary approval needed from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. 

“Once that is passed and we get the materials that would be needed such as sidewalks, labels for the beverage holders at the establishments that would be participating, I would ideally like to have it ready in September of this year if possible,” Almond told council members on April 18. “We have a lot of outdoor events that will be going on. Pfeiffer will again be working with us on a homecoming event on Friday, Sept. 30.” 

Last May, the NC General Assembly passed House Bill 781, also known as the “Bring Business Back to Downtown” bill. Social districts were added to the bill with the intent of increasing foot traffic for businesses who have struggled since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, empowering municipalities to allow people to buy and consume alcohol within a defined area.  

As defined in the bill, nobody will be allowed to bring their own alcohol into the district and nobody will be allowed to take a beverage from one establishment into another establishment that also serves alcohol.