Commissioners delay vote that would give them broad power over licensing of alcohol sales

By Drew Galloway

The Madison County Commission delayed voting on a proposal that would give them the power to issue and revoke licenses for sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption for restaurants in unincorporated areas of Madison County.

The proposal was not voted on in order to give time for public input and further review by the commission and the county attorney, Julian Butler.  The proposal is a result of legislation by representative Wayne Johnson.

Currently, the proposal says that people applying for a license must operate a restaurant where at least 50 percent of the revenue comes from the sale of food, no live music or entertainment and no DJ or dancing, according to Butler.

“It gives you the authority that you have never had,” said Butler to the commission.  “It allows this commission to cancel the license for the violation of any ABC regulations, health department regulations or fire code violations.”

“I’m sure there are people who will question why the no dancing and no live music.  The unincorporated area of the county is very large.  The ability to quickly ascertain if somebody is really selling 50 percent food or not is hard to do,” said Butler.  This proposal intends to leave the door closed to rural road houses and strip clubs.

“I think it is general knowledge that our intent is for nice restaurants to have what we feel is a level playing field with the city in order to attract more,” said District 1 representative Roger Jones.  “I think that for something of this magnitude and this importance for the county, we don’t need to rush into it without the people knowing what is going on.”

“I have kind of mixed emotions in regard to this particular draft resolution.  I think that its the kind of situation that we have been asking for consideration for home rule for a long time.  It just seems to be coming in, trickling bit by bit,” said District 6 Commissioner Bob Harrison.

“The mixed emotions that I have is doing this without some other things that should be place.”  Commissioner Harrison asked representative Johnson to look at giving the commission home rule powers, powers that would let the commission play a more proactive role in the county,” said Harrison.

“I’ve always said that I would hold out on this particular item until we could have planning an zoning,” said District 2 Commissioner Faye Dyer.  “It’s in some ways similar to the illegal immigration bill.  There were unintended consequences and I have a feeling that there are going to be some unintended consequences that we are not going to be able to foresee.”

One possible unintended consequence of the proposal that Dyer gave as an example would be that a wedding could possibly be illegal if it has alcohol with live music and dancing.  Dyer also raised concerns about restaurants moving out to the county from Huntsville city, thereby hurting Huntsville.

“The key thing that we need is comprehensive planning and zoning that serves to facilitate what we are doing right now.  That’s why I’m saying that the chicken is coming before the egg,” said Harrison.

Residents of Madison County are invited to give written input on the proposed resolution to give the ability to grant and revoke permits for the selling of alcohol.  Feedback can be mailed to County Attorney Julian Butler at: Sirote & Permutt, 305 Church St., Suite 800, Huntsville, AL 35801.  The proposal will be back on the agenda at the next county commission meeting on December 2nd.