INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Businesses seeking a permit to sell alcohol will no longer have to worry about whether they are far enough away from churches.
Commissioners voted to amend the county’s rules today to fall better into line with state rules, removing churches from one of the considerations when issuing alcohol licenses.
The issue came up after Majestic Plaza owner Michael Rechter requested an alcohol license for his cigar and wine bar and billiards club a couple doors down from Vero Bowl.
The cigar and wine bar is located about 525 feet away from Christ Church of Vero Beach.
The prior rule prohibited businesses that wanted to serve alcohol onsite from being located within 1,000 feet from a church unless that business was located there first.
If not for the grandfathering of existing businesses, the Outback Steakhouse located at Majestic Plaza would not have been granted its alcohol license and likely would not have moved to the plaza.
While commissioners voted unanimously to support the changes to the rules, one resident spoke out against what he called a “blanket” exemption.
Bob Johnson said that he would rather see commissioners make the determination on a case-by-case basis. He also questioned the impact such a rule change could have on churches looking to move into shopping centers and other similar storefronts.
Bob Keating, the county’s community development director, said they did receive a letter from Christ Church of Vero Beach that stated the church did not have a problem with the requested alcohol license for the cigar and wine bar.
Keating added that if commissioners did not amend the rules across the board, “We’re going to keep running into it.”
He explained that more start-up churches are opening in commercial retail areas as a way to get established before investing in building their own structure.
Commissioner Bob Solari told the audience and his fellow commissioners that he thought the new rules are a good compromise, explaining that churches are allowed in all zoning districts throughout the county. He added that churches would have plenty of choices for locations.
The new rules prohibit businesses from receiving alcohol licenses if they are located within 500 feet from a school.
Businesses could be exempt from the amended prohibition if they receive at least 51 percent of their gross revenues from the sale of food or non-alcoholic beverages or if they received their alcohol license prior to July 1, 1999.
The bar and lounge to be located within Vero Bowl will not be impacted by the new rules, Keating said after the meeting. He explained that because the bowling alley had moved into the plaza before the church, it would have been exempt from even the former rules.