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Alcohol debate between church, store rages on

By Holly Hollman
hhollman@decaturdaily.com 340-2445

ATHENS — A Church of Christ congregation is fighting a neighboring grocery store's plans to sell alcohol, and a Methodist minister supported the congregation by telling city leaders there is "a higher law."

On Monday, members of Northside Church of Christ told the Athens City Council that allowing L&S Grocery to sell alcohol would "be a threat to the safety and peace of mind" of worshippers.

The church and store are on North Jefferson Street, and are separated by Ninth Avenue.

Church members said they already contend with litter and parties held on church property on weekends.

"I think it will just get worse," said member Ronald Jewel.

Member Richard McElyea said the church has let the store use its parking lot for deliveries.

"But it would hurt my feelings to see a Schlitz truck on the property," he said.

The church presented a petition that 123 members signed opposing alcohol sales.

"You represent the citizens who also did not vote for alcohol sales," said Edward Gooch, preacher at Isom's Chapel United Methodist Church. "You have to consider there is a higher law. What would God have you do?"

The ordinance prohibits alcohol sales within 500 feet of a church, but the ordinance exempts grocery stores.

Councilwoman Milly Caudle said she respects church members' beliefs but the "council doesn't have the ability to let beliefs determine whether we follow the law."

Homer Pack, who said he represented the Northside's elders, said the council has amended the ordinance before and can do so again. Council President Har-old Wales, however, said if the council denied L&S Grocery's request and changed the ordinance just to address that situation, courts would not uphold the ruling.

Mayor Dan Williams said the church can file complaints with the Alabama Alcoholic Beverages Control board.

"If enough complain, ABC can hold a hearing," Williams said.

Pack said the church plans to make complaints to ABC. Wales said he hopes the owners of L&S will "read the papers and pull this off the table. I will consider a higher law before I vote."

Monday was a public hearing on the matter. The council will vote on whether to allow alcohol sales at its May 14 meeting.

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