Mayor Drew Gilbert opened the meeting by reminding the more than 50 residents in attendance that the council was spurred to action by 71 percent of the people voting in favor of alcohol sales in May.
“We want to make sure we’re doing it responsibly, and we want to make sure we’re protecting the fiber of Cordova by doing it, but it is something that the public has asked for,” Gilbert said.
The portion of the ordinance that troubled all those who spoke out against it Tuesday night was the 100 foot buffer zone established for schools, churches and child care facilities.
Cordova First Baptist Church Pastor Mahlon LeCroix pointed out that the Department of Justice recommends keeping alcohol sales at least 1,000 feet away from schools, youth facilities and residential neighborhoods.
He also cited statistics from several larger cities such as New York City, which limits package stores to 200 feet from schools and centers of worship, and Cullman, which has a 500 foot buffer zone for public places where children are present.
“It hasn’t hurt their growth,” LeCroix said.
Sheri’s One Stop, the only convenience store in Cordova that is currently in a position to sell alcohol once the ordinance passes, is located directly next to the church and the licensed preschool that is operated there.
The store is also in close proximity to Hudson-Kirby Stadium and Cordova High School and is a popular hang-out for local youth after school and athletic events.
“Think of the impact it’s going to have on our kids,” LeCroix said.
LeCroix also asked council members to consider extending the 100-foot marker out of respect for the city’s church community.
“While the revenue from alcohol is going to be minimal at best, the impact coming from your local churches, whether you go and support them or not, is great in this city. We help a lot, and we’re just asking for a little respect and consideration,” LeCroix said.
After LeCroix’s presentation, Gilbert pointed out that the ordinance states the buffer zone does not apply to areas in a B-1, B-2 or B-3 zoning district.
Sheri’s One Stop is zoned for business in B-1 and, therefore, would not be prohibited from selling alcohol regardless of changes to the buffer zone.
Only new businesses who intend to operate in an area that would require rezoning would be affected.
Gilbert repeated on multiple occasions during the meeting that he wanted to avoid even the appearance of targeting Sheri’s or any business.
“We’re elected to represent the whole, and I want to represent the whole as best as we can,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert also suggested that increasing the buffer zone to 500 feet would prohibit reputable businesses from being located downtown because of a nearby park and playground that was rebuilt after the April 2011 tornadoes.
“This council’s plans make a downtown where we want everyone to be. We want you to hang out, frequent businesses, play on the playground. If we shift the population of children where we have them all over downtown, do we not sell a beer downtown at a restaurant?” Gilbert said.
Gilbert told the audience he would support addressing the concerns about underage drinking through other means, such as prohibiting alcohol advertisements on the outside of the building and requiring alcohol to be located in an isolated retail space at the furthest point from the main entrance.
He also expressed a preference for relying on the city’s police force, which has been revamped under the current administration, to keep alcohol out of the hands of young people.
Gilbert urged the audience and council to focus on issues that can be controlled, such as stringent requirements on business owners in order to earn the right to sell alcohol, as opposed to factors that cannot be controlled, such as human behavior.
“If you come through squeaky clean and some adult walks into that business that has passed through all of our rigorous standards and buys alcohol for a minor, no matter where that business is located, I can’t stop that from happening,” Gilbert said.
Council members Warren Branch and Bobby Busby also voiced concerns about the 100-foot buffer, while Bradley Grace and Lauren Vance offered several compromises, such as prohibiting external advertisements to address the concerns of residents.
After an hour-long discussion in which approximately a dozen residents and council members participated, Gilbert said residents could expect a variety of alternatives based on their comments to be presented at a future meeting.
The turnout Tuesday night was more than twice the normal attendance, and Gilbert invited members of the community who were present to continue their involvement.
“I would love to see these seats filled up week in and week out ... Help us shape this entire city, not just one component of it,” Gilbert said.