A showdown between religious values and economic interests took place in Carrabelle last year.
The question: Where can alcohol be served in the city?
In December 2011 the city commission heard the first reading of a proposed city ordinance, #450, which would have allowed for case-by-case city review of requested liquor licenses.
This ordinance would have replaced an existing law requiring a 500 foot buffer around churches, schools and playgrounds. Introduction ordinance #450 led to threats, animosity and posturing on three subsequent occasions.
Originally scheduled for Jan. 5, the ordinance’s second reading was postponed until March, after it was greeted by fierce opposition from Carrabelle religious leaders, notably Homer McMillan, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church in December.
Because the ordinance raised passionate arguments from the both businesses and religious groups, Carrabelle commissioners called for a Jan. 21 workshop. About 50 people attended that gathering, which was dominated by the religious activists, led by McMillan.
He said, “If this ordinance changes, it will lead to case-by-case discussion. We have the likelihood of using city resources and the time of the commissioners. These meetings consume money. The current ordinance leads to most efficient use of city resources and it is in keeping with the policy of most cities in North Florida with similar characteristics. This change takes us outside the mainstream.”
The fight resumed with a vengeance at the Feb. 1 city meeting, when more than 100 people gathered to argue about the proposed change.
Skip and Kathy Frink’s fight to reopen a small café and serve wine and beer was the catalyst that sparked the alcohol debate. At the February meeting, Skip Frink handed out copies of an aerial map of Carrabelle between 12th Street East and the foot of the Tillie Miller Bridge with an overlay showing the areas excluded from serving alcohol by ordinance #450.
Based on Frink’s map, which he said was created by an owner of commercial property in Carrabelle, it appeared that more than half of Carrabelle’s commercial property, including most of downtown, would be excluded from the sale of alcohol under the 500-foot rule.
In a telephone interview, City Manager Courtney Millender said that, while the map had not been formally adopted by the city, she viewed it as an accurate depiction of the business district and the areas of exclusion.
Business owners, including some with no direct interest in the hospitality trade and several community leaders argued that the 500 foot rule excluded alcohol from virtually the entire business district and crippled entrepreneurs who sought to open a restaurant or rent or sell property in Carrabelle.
McMillan said Carrabelle’s demographics will not support additional restaurants, and that 49 restaurants had been opened in Carrabelle in the last decade and virtually all had failed.
Some members of the audience disagreed with his analysis.
Carrabelle Chamber of Commerce Director Suzanne Zimmerman said she had owned two restaurants and believed visitors to the area expected to order wine or beer with a meal.
Builder Shawn Oxendine said, “Is this going to be Carrabelle under Prohibition? I’m asking these men of God if it says anywhere in the Bible that it is illegal to drink or take a sip of wine. I wish they would show it to me
Do you want to shut the whole city down? This is not a few selective properties; it’s almost the whole commercial district.”
At the Feb. 1 meeting, McMillan displayed a petition which he said opposed ordinance # 450, but members of the audience argued that the petition had been misrepresented to many of those who signed.
After the discussion was tabled, the planning and zoning board (P&Z) came back to the Carrabelle Commission at their April meeting with a proposed alternative that would have created zones where beer and wine only could be served in restaurants that eared over 51 percent of their income through food sales.
P&Z board member Rod Gasche resigned after the commission dismissed the proposal with very little discussion when Mayor Curley Messer demanded a vote to bring the debate to an end.
At that meeting, Carrabelle commissioners voted 3-2 to keep in place the law that places a 500-foot buffer zone around churches, schools and playgrounds. Commissioners Charlotte Schneider and Cal Allen were opposed.