An economic development conundrum led to sweeping changes in the City of Dothan’s alcohol ordinances Tuesday.
The Dothan City Commission approved a revised alcohol ordinance that borders on wholesale changes during a meeting at the Dothan Civic Center. Amongst the adjustments are changes to how city employees measure buffer distances, an accompanying reduction in buffers and the installation of buffer exemptions for large shopping centers and the downtown entertainment district.
The changes come after conflicts arose between establishments selling alcohol (like restaurants) and entities the city protects with buffers that prevent alcohol sales (like churches and schools). In particular the issues developed in the downtown entertainment district and shopping centers, where churches have increasingly located in recent years.
Early last year commissioners asked the Dothan Planning Department to devise a way to reduce the conflicts, thereby providing more places where restaurants and other alcohol retailers could locate. The planning department recommended the following changes, which the commission approved unanimously:
>> Provided exceptions to the buffer rules in shopping centers that are at least 25,000 square feet in size. The code also extends the exception to outparcels of shopping centers. The commission also granted exceptions to the downtown entertainment district.
>> Changed the way buffers are measured and the size of the buffers. In the past, buffers were 600 feet as measured by walking from the door of one establishment to the door of the other. Now most buffers are 200 feet as measured from the closest points on the property lines of the parcels in question. The ordinance reduces the buffer to 100 feet for restaurants.
>> Provided an exception for establishments where the sale of alcohol for off-premise consumption is a part of their business but not principally. Dothan Planning Director Todd McDonald mentioned grocery stores and pharmacies as primary examples for the exception.
Even though the buffer reduces from 600 feet to 200 feet in most cases, the change in measuring methods may actually tighten restrictions, said District 5 Commissioner Beth Kenward, adding that the adjustment allows the city to better enforce buffers.
Buffers are established to protect churches, schools, playgrounds, parks, group homes, shelters, halfway/transitional houses, youth clubs, and licensed daycares.