About 70 residents turned out at City Hall to hear the ordinance’s third reading. Residents commented on the issue for about 30 minutes before the council voted 5-0 in favor of the amendment.
Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Judd Burkhart advised those in attendance to keep their composure.
“I want everyone to have the chance to talk,” he said. “We don’t want any nonsense or name calling. I will remove you.”
The ordinance amendment stipulates at least 80 percent of a restaurant’s gross receipts must come from food sales. Establishments must also be able to seat at least 125 patrons.
Restaurants will not be permitted under the ordinance to serve liquors such as vodka, whiskey or tequila.
“We’ve set the bar real high,” Councilman Ronnie Cobb said. “That rules out a sleaze bar, a walk-in bar, even sports bars.”
Cobb noted upscale restaurants like Red Lobster or O’Charley’s will not locate in Fort Oglethorpe unless they can serve beer and wine. He said quality motels and other businesses will follow the restaurants into Fort Oglethorpe and stimulate the local economy.
“Once you start dotting the city with nice restaurants, they (motels) come in and build next to them,” Cobb said. “We’re going to capture the tourism dollars we’ve been missing all of this time.”
Cobb said the amendment also clears up a loophole in the city’s codes that allowed people to brownbag alcohol in local restaurants.
“There was nothing there that we could enforce if somebody decided to brownbag,” he said. “This ordinance will put teeth in it (the law) to where we can control that.”
Rev. Ron Tankersley of Parkway Baptist Temple told the council he was against the ordinance but was mainly speaking out because of comments he attributed to council members stating anyone against the amendment should get a life.
“I have a life and I take exception to being called a second-class citizen,” he said. “My question to you (the council) is, are we as Christians who have a different opinion and are against alcohol, welcome in Fort Oglethorpe?”
“I would hope that this council would be the voice of reason,” Tankersley said.
Morgan Bateman, a deacon at New Manna Baptist Church, said, “I oppose this amendment and what it will bring into our community.”
“I call it like I see it,” resident Steve Moss added. “My God don’t drink and my God’s name is Jesus Christ.”
Rev. Randy Lynn of New Manna Baptist Church, in voicing his opposition, said he did not believe enough thought had gone into the potential repercussions of the amendment. Lynn quoted 1997 Georgia statistics concerning alcohol-related traffic accidents.
“It says here that alcohol is a factor in 28 percent of Georgia (automobile) crashes,” he said.
Rosemary Beck, a commercial real estate developer and owner of Goody’s shopping center, spoke in favor of the ordinance amendment.
“I’ve had a lot of tenants interested in coming to Fort Oglethorpe,” Beck said. “However, they do need to have beer and wine to come to town.”
Cobb said great care went into the ordinance amendment to insure it would be in the city’s best interest.
“It had to be one way and that’s the only way,” he said. “We weren’t going to accept anything less.”
Establishments that meet the basic requirements to obtain a license to serve beer and wine by the drink must pay a $100 application fee at City Hall and be approved by the Catoosa County Health Department.
The next scheduled meeting of Fort Oglethorpe City Council will be Monday, April 8 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall