The Apopka City Council voted 3-2 to amend a Code of Ordinances that restricts the sale of alcoholic beverages within city limits. The amendment (Ordinance 2612) relaxes restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
The Apopka City Council Agenda Packet, provided by City staff for the December 20th meeting, stated:
“The City of Apopka’s alcoholic beverage ordinance contains outdated requirements that have the potential of prohibiting various businesses. Distance requirements prohibit alcoholic beverage sales/consumption within 750 feet of churches, schools, government property or buildings and public parks. Because all roads are actually considered government property, this alone can prohibit many uses throughout Apopka.”
The amendment goes on to address future uses for the downtown and the coming City Center:
“Under the current code, and due to the high number of storefront churches in the downtown, Apopka’s downtown will never see a brewpub, like most every thriving downtown has. This ordinance limits the distance requirement to 500 feet (down from 750 feet) from schools and provides additional definitions that were missing. It also incorporates the same for sale times that would put Apopka on par with Orange County. These changes, along with better clarifications, will allow Apopka to take advantage of the code, rather than being limited by it. The City has recognized that brewpubs and wine bars make up a new and emerging independent market segment within Florida. Local independent breweries have emerged as a competitive market segment enabling many downtowns to become economically viable again. The most important part of these updated regulations is to get Apopka and the downtown poised for economic opportunities that will allow alcoholic beverage sales in a more diversified atmosphere. This is another tool to help Apopka, the Apopka downtown and the CRA grow and make it acceptable to establishments that are normal for a successful downtown.”
Nine speakers voiced their opinions during the public comment portion of the discussion – including three pastors against the change.
“I knew sooner or later we would open this Pandora’s Box,” said Pastor Hezekiah Bradford, the President of the South Apopka Ministerial Alliance. “My main concern is for the police department. We already don’t have the money to fully fund them, and if you’re going to extend the drinking hours from 7 AM to 2 AM, that’s going to put undue pressure on them. This is going to add to drunk driving and crime in the community. There’s going to be a need for more first responders because there will be more crashes on the roads. All of this needs to be looked into.”
“Everywhere I go in Central Florida, people speak of Apopka as being probably the best place to raise kids,” said Darrell Morgan, President of the Apopka Christian Ministerial Alliance. “We should put children above business. And I’m not against business, but I’m going to ask that we consider the buffer that’s in place now. I think we can do that and put our children first.”
Commissioner Kyle Becker spoke in favor of the amendment, and suggested that a 750-foot buffer zone deters potential business more than it does bad behavior.
“With a buffer zone of 750 feet, there wouldn’t be much of an opportunity for these businesses to come downtown,” he said. “Eliminating some of the buffer requirements allows some of these businesses to come downtown. And I’m very empathetic to the fact that people have their own personal stories about death due to drunk driving, and alcohol-related abuse, but the fact of the matter is this ordinance has been in place for years and it didn’t prevent those things from happening. People are going to drink alcohol whether there’s an imaginary line of 500 feet, or 750 feet away. People are going to do it. It’s a matter of having a good police agency that knows how to deal with it properly and makes sure the residents of our community are safe.”
Commissioner Doug Bankson was the only Council member to verbalize his opposition to the amendment.
“There’s a reason there’s a statewide buffer of 500 feet for schools,” he said. “Yes people break the law, but that’s no reason not to have the law. It is a deterrent and it gives law enforcement something they can use if someone does break that law, then they can go back and help deter it in the future. So the fact is there are children and there are circumstances and anything we can do to create a safety zone for children I’m in favor of. There’s a reason they do that for schools, and I think these other institutions deserve that protection. And as far as the distance, I think that’s something that can be considered. I think there’s room to discuss that.”
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer used a popular street in Central Florida as an example of a successful merger between a church and businesses that serve alcohol.
“The example that I have in my head is Park Avenue in Winter Park where thers is St. Mary Margaret Catholic Church, and immediately across the street is an establishment that serves alcohol. It’s not even 100 feet away. St. Mary Margaret Catholic Church has been there since time itself. It’s almost as old as Winter Park itself. The business district on Park Avenue is active and thriving. It has a broad mix of businesses… some sell alcohol and some don’t. But they basically co-exist and that’s what we’re aiming for here.”
Kilsheimer, Becker and Commissioner Diane Velazquez voted in favor of the amendment, while Bankson and Commissioner Billie Dean voted against.