Albemarle approves downtown bars in 4-3 vote

(Photo courtesy of the City of Albemarle)

ALBEMARLE — Bars are coming to Albemarle’s Central Business District.

At its Feb. 19 meeting, Albemarle City Council members voted 4-3 to approve an ordinance change to allow bars in downtown Albemarle, albeit under a special use permit with separation requirements.

With the ordinance’s prior terminology of “profit clubs” changing to “bars,” the council also decided there must be a 200-foot separation between establishments under that label.

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

The council’s decision arrived after the city’s Planning Board voted 7-1 earlier this month to recommend the change.

“I’m a little puzzled by how this thing came up after it was so clear the last time. We had so many people here opposed to that sort of thing,” Bramlett said, indicating his disapproval with the amendment.

Last May, the council voted 4-3 against an amendment that would have allowed bars but without any separation requirement; Hall, Aldridge, Hunt and Bramlett opposed the ordinance as Dry, Whitley and Townsend voted for it — with Mayor Pro-Tem Hall the only one changing position.

Previously, Albemarle allowed full-service restaurants to sell liquor in the Central Business District, while breweries and taprooms were not allowed to sell liquor.

“When I see them, I see vomit on the street; I’ve had to clean that up in front of our store,” Bramlett said. “I see people getting in fights and having brawls. I can see people leaving those things, getting in a car and going out under the influence and killing somebody. I worry about why there aren’t a lot of people here, but I didn’t know about this thing until today. I don’t know how it got by me and I’m sure the rules were followed, but I didn’t quite get it. I just don’t see open bars throughout our town.”

After the council’s decision last year, Badin Brews owner Joshua Hicks reapplied for the ordinance change. He spoke — prior to the vote — during the meeting’s public hearing section:

“With 200 feet, you can probably get six bars downtown, if you strategically place them,” Hicks said. “All the businesses downtown are struggling… I have invested my entire life in this town and I will not quit. I’m going to do everything I can to make this city something great.”

“Downtown Albemarle has got some life in it again,” said Tomahawk Throwing Range owner Garrett Starnes, in support of the amendment. “I realize people have reservations about people drinking or having bars, but the dirty little truth is, if it’s a moral argument, that bucket doesn’t carry water. People are going to drink.”

The next Albemarle City Council meeting is set for March 4 inside the City Hall Council Chambers.