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Church removes alcohol barrier
Sign violating city code replaces trees

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

A Decatur church is violating the city's building code after it replaced 37 cypress trees with the beginnings of an apparent electrical sign.

Last week, the Rev. Leonel Alvarado of the Decatur Hispanic Church of the Nazarene, told the City Council that church members objected to the transfer of an alcohol license for Sara Mini Mart, at 2108 Sandlin Road S.W.

Alvarado said the church would remove the trees, which served as a city-approved barrier to let the store sell alcohol within 500 feet of a house of worship.

The church made good on its promise, but appears to be building a lighted sign where the trees once stood. A trench, apparently housing electrical wiring, extends from near the building to a wooden frame.

The council didn't discuss the tree removal Monday during its agenda work session, but will host a public hearing April 2 on the license transfer. The 7 p.m. meeting will be at the Community Free Clinic at 245 Jackson St. S.E. rather than at the council's City Hall chambers.

Jimmy Brothers, director of Decatur's Building Department, said the church hasn't obtained a building permit and is in violation of a city ordinance.

"They could be issued a citation to court," Brothers said. "We won't issue one until we get all the facts. It just came to light. I'd like to find the sign and electrical contractors involved."

Alvarado wasn't available Monday for comment.

It wasn't known what happened to the 37 cypress trees.

Decatur Revenue Director Ronne Harvell said SAI Inc. bought Sara Mini Mart from Ismael "Sam" Abusaleem. Harvell said for a store to sell alcohol within 500 feet of a church or elementary or secondary school, approved barriers must be installed. The store is 320 feet from the church, he said.

"The next step ... is to recommend to the council that approval for alcohol sales at this location would not be appropriate due to non-compliance with the separation requirements," Harvell said. "If the council concurs, I will then notify the ABC Board and it is almost a given that the alcohol will be removed from the location."

In 2005, the church sent the city a letter approving of the tree barrier, so the store could sell beer and wine, but members sent the city a second letter in February, saying they changed their minds.

Alvarado said people were buying alcohol at the store and consuming it on church property.

As for the building-permit violation, Brothers said, the city's objective is to avoid a court summons.

"The city has a forgiving heart," said Brothers, noting this isn't the first time a church violated a sign ordinance. "There have been a number of them."

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