The Dawson County Planning Commission has approved a set of new updates to the county’s alcohol ordinance, giving new permit options to local wedding and event venues and bringing county codes on alcohol deliveries in line with state regulations.
At the commission’s meeting on Tuesday, April 20, Dawson County Planning Director Jameson Kinley presented the first major update to the county alcohol ordinance since 2009, explaining that while many of the changes just brought the ordinance up to date, three key areas of the ordinance have been targeted in the update.
The first major update, according to Kinley, deals with the wedding and event venues that the county calls “agricultural businesses.”
Under the county’s current ordinance, the majority of event and wedding venues provide alcohol through a process known as “brown-bagging,” where the individuals or groups renting the venue bring and serve their own alcohol during the event.
Under the updated ordinance, venues would also be allowed to apply for an actual alcohol license so that the venue itself could buy alcohol wholesale and sell drinks to guests.
Kinley said they expect most local venues will stick to the brown-bagging model, but they wanted to give local businesses more choice than the current ordinance allows.
“We wanted to make sure we gave them options,” he said.
Under the new ordinance, brown-bagging alcohol sales would only be allowed for venues with a county business license and would come with a host of responsibilities for the party renting out the venue. With the second option, venues would only be able to sell drinks within a certain time frame. In both instances, a licensed bartender would have to be hired if liquor is being served at an event, Kinley said.
The second major update to the alcohol ordinance would add variances to the alcohol permitting process, Kinley said
Currently, the alcohol ordinance doesn’t allow any leeway and requires a “very strict” interpretation of the codes governing it, Kinley said. But with variances, like those often seen on the construction side of planning and development, Kinley said the county could attract businesses that might otherwise be prohibited by smaller technicalities in the current ordinance.
For example, Kinley said variances could allow a brewery to open in Dawson County. Currently, the county’s ordinance requires breweries to make 50% of its sales from food.
“We have to understand that our alcohol ordinance is really one or two versions right out of Dawson County being a dry county,” Kinley said. “We have a lot of businesses that want to come into the county, but a strictly literal interpretation of some of our ordinances would restrict them from being able to sell alcohol.”
He said the update will allow applicants to vary from specific sections, but not the intent of the ordinance. And at the end of the day, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners will make final decisions on all alcohol variances.
The final update targets deliveries of alcohol, which was only recently expanded at the state level in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Kinley, Dawson County’s current alcohol ordinance is out of step with state regulations, prohibiting curbside pickup of alcoholic beverages, but allowing home deliveries of alcohol sales.
With the updated ordinance, Dawson County would defer to state guidelines on alcohol deliveries, he said.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 879 into law in August 2020, allowing restaurants, supermarkets and liquor stores to make home deliveries of beer, wine and distilled spirits. Among its many other provisions, the bill also allowed alcohol retailers to provide to-go services.
After no public comments opposing the alcohol ordinance update and one public comment in favor, the update was approved 3-0, with Commission member Steve Sanvi absent.
Planning Commission Chairman Jason Hamby said that the next public hearing on this ordinance update will be held at the Dawson County Board of Commissioners meeting on May 6, at 4 p.m.