Process to organize liquor store applications causes strife

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By Natasha Colbaugh

With the final additions to the liquor by the drink and package store ordinance in place the Caryville Board of Mayor and Aldermen are set for the second and final reading this month. But when the board attempted to prepare the application for liquor stores it seemed to hit a snag.

Among the final changes to the ordinance was lowering the minimum square footage of package stores to 1,500, changing beer sale hours to reflect the board’s chosen time and adding a sub paragraph for a two-year ban of elected officials from applying for a liquor store. These changes were quickly discussed. Town attorney Reid Troutman sent the final draft to the Municipal Tennessee Advisory Service for approval.

Mayor Robert Stooksbury asked for the community’s patience when liquor by the drink and package stores was voted on in the general election. He said following the proper procedures was going to take time. But when he mentioned May as a deadline for receiving applications, it was the board members that seemed to run out of patience.

Each application is mirrored from the state application, meaning if applicants don’t meet state guidelines they will not be given an opportunity to proceed. Such guidelines include a background check and availability of property to open a business within a limited timeline.

Applications will be received for 30 days following the passage of the ordinance. The heavily regulated liquor industry is going to weed out applicants, according to Troutman.

Troutman addressed the board’s decision whether to conduct personal interviews, set a cut off date to receive applications and to choose two finalists based on a point-system application.

“What happens at this juncture is your discretion, you have the basic right to proceed as you see fit,” said Troutman.

Alderman Chris Stanley said he doesn’t think people are going to apply without a business plan. Important guidelines for Stanley were residency and business ownership within Caryville.

“I think you guys need to think about what’s important to you and what’s important for this city,” said Troutman.

Besides having a business plan in place, Troutman said financial statements would be an important factor. The amount of detailed information to review for applicants meant it could be a lengthy process.

“If we cut it off at March 31, the state doesn’t meet till the end of April, then that puts us back,” said Aldermen Glenn Smith.

In response Troutman said moving the date would be setting a deadline that the board is unable to meet. Smith said the state allows an extension of 120 days before liquor stores open.

“Everybody understood this from the beginning this is going to be a slow process,” said Stooksbury.

April is a target date for application approval, according to Troutman. The applicants to open a liquor store in zones C2 and C4 will have to be approved in a meeting by a majority vote.

“This is not anything we can do quickly,” said Stooksbury about the procedure for background checks. “If you’ve got six or seven applicants with two or three partners it’s going to take some time.”

The board decided to do background checks first to weed out applicants. The application fee is $300, to be used for background checks and expenses. Applications could be accepted from February 17 to March 17.

“The thought of the meeting tonight is to set up the point system… what we want is the rubber hitting the road in getting to the points,” said Stanley. “As soon as we establish that it doesn’t matter if 50 people apply for this.”

Troutman said the process isn’t going to be easy and it may come down to a vote. Stanley said he wanted to establish the point system.

“You have to tell me what you want. I have done all I can do. I have done your ordinance, I’ve done all I can do for you,” said Troutman. “I can’t assign a point, that’s your decision.”

Stanley continued to urge the aldermen to get involved and make decisions. The proposed criteria in the application was residency, business in the town, business plan, financial statement, property owner vs. leaseholder, location of store and business experience. A 50-point application was being considered.

The board hopes to have an application prepared by the next regular meeting on Feb. 14.