Restaurants near churches, schools can serve alcohol in Sebastian

SEBASTIAN – Certain restaurants located within 450 feet of churches or schools in Sebastian will be allowed to serve alcohol.

The Sebastian City Council split 3-2 in its approval of the ordinance change, which will allow Las Palmas Cuban Restaurant to serve beer and wine near the Sebastian Baptist Church on US 1.

Restaurant manager Edna Gonzalez told the council Wednesday evening that, though her restaurant was making the request to have the rules changed, the new rules would benefit all the restaurants.

She took exception to those in the public who have been saying the council was changing the rules for just one business.

“I hope I stop being singled out,” Gonzalez said.

Councilmen Richard Gillmor and Eugene Wolff were on the losing end of the vote to amend the city’s alcohol ordinance. They had suggested one more provision be added to the ordinance that would provide an exception for businesses in the city’s redevelopment area, but only there.

Councilman Wolff said that such an addition to the ordinance could serve as a middle-ground.

“We can serve both parties,” he said of those who want to be able to serve near churches and schools and those who don’t want the ordinance to be changed.

There are no schools located within the redevelopment area.

Councilman Gillmor added that by passing the ordinance – which would be in effect citywide – the council was sending two messages.

One such message would be that the City of Sebastian was trying to be just like Vero Beach and Indian River County – both of which amended their ordinances last year to remove the distance requirement.

“It’s a family town,” Gillmor said of Sebastian. “It’s kind of like Mayberry.”

The other message, he said, would be that if anyone in the city doesn’t like a particular rule – just come to the Sebastian City Council and it’ll get changed.

“That’s not the right message,” Gillmor said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

The prevailing council members argued that limiting the distance exception to the CRA district would not achieve anything.

The city has three schools – Pelican Island Elementary, Sebastian Charter Junior High, and Sebastian Elementary – none of which are 450 feet from property that could be potentially developed as a restaurant.

The closest one could be Sebastian Elementary, which has commercially-zoned land across County Road 512 from it.

City Manager Al Minner said that while the property lines are within the 450-foot zone, the city’s legal opinion is that the measurement would be from door-to-door between the potential restaurant and the school.

Such a measurement would place the distance outside the 450-foot zone.

“We’re creating a rule that doesn’t apply,” Councilwoman Andrea Coy said of Gillmor’s proposed amendment.

The proposed amendment failed 2-3 with Coy, Mayor Jim Hill and Vice Mayor Don Wright voting it down.

The three then voted in support of the proposed ordinance as written, which will provide an exception to the 450-foot rule for restaurants the derive at least 51 percent of their gross revenues from food and non-alcoholic beverages and do not have a freestanding bar.

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