A CONTROVERSIAL ordinance that would allow restaurants to transition into bars after hours was tabled for two weeks at the June 5 meeting of the Savannah City Council. Both Mayor Otis Johnson and Alderman Van Johnson were absent, and the mayor had requested that the matter be tabled until he can attend the meeting.
Mike Vaquer represented the Georgia Restaurant Association and said he is putting together a group of members to work on the ordinance to make sure it addresses restaurant operator’s concerns. “I’m getting wild questions I have no answer for,” he said.
Some of the issues that will be addressed include the definition of a full-service restaurant and whether or not persons 21 and under can be in a restaurant bar during normal hours of operation. “A number of national chain restaurants are built around a central bar,” Vaquer said. “I know for a fact there have been minors in there dining, but not buying alcohol. We are interested in working this forward to come up with a document all can embrace and be proud of and ensuring that restaurant operators can work within the law.”
City Manager Michael Brown said ordinances are already in place to ban people under 21 from bars, whether they’re in restaurants or not. “I would argue a bona fide bar with bottles and beer taps is not an appropriate place for underage persons to be seated,” he said.
Alderman Tony Thomas said not every restaurant would be impacted by the ordinance. “We want to accommodate the businesses that want to do this,” he said. “For those businesses that do, there are going to be rules they have to follow.”
Parking also is a concern, Thomas said. “When I talk with my colleagues, I believe most of them are pro-business,” he said. “We have to protect public safety and be fair.”
In other action, the council agreed to purchase a 2.65 acre tract of land in Hudson Hill that would be used for the construction of 19 to 21 new in-fill houses as part of the West Savannah/Hudson Hill revitalization plan. A $202,000 loan to the Savannah-Chatham Land Bank Authority to purchase the land was approved.
Hudson Hill Neighborhood Association President Bernetta Anderson urged the council to ensure that the design of the houses fits in with the surrounding neighborhood. She also asked that the neighborhood be rezoned to keep industrial development in the area in check.
The land will be sold to a developer, who will then construct the houses. At that point, the $202,000 loan will be repaid to the city.
A rezoning request from the Victory Drive Deliverance Temple, Inc. was tabled for 60 days to allow members time to work out a dispute among church members. Bishop Theodore Jackson had requested that the church property at 203 W. Victory Dr. be rezoned from Residential-Business to General-Business.
The Metropolitan Planning Commission has recommended denial of the request because it could alter the land-use pattern in the surrounding neighborhood. Also, the MPC said the proposed rezoning is inconsistent with the city’s Future Land Use Plan and would allow for the encroachment of heavy commercial use.
The bishop was not in attendance, but church members expressed concern about his actions. Martina Correia told the council Jackson has been relieved of his duties and the church is involved in litigation against him. “The hearings are pending now,” she said. “He has no authority to act on behalf of the church.”
John Anderson told the council his late father had founded the church in 1973 and that his mother is co-owner of the property. “A few people got together unbeknownst to the congregation,” he said. “The new bishop found a loophole to try to take over the property. He has a history of going from city to city doing this type of thing. That’s why we’re protesting.”
Mayor Pro Tem Edna Jackson said church members have 60 days to resolve the issue before action is taken on the rezoning. “You’ve been very good neighbors for a long time,” she said. “We’ll get with the city manager. You will not incur expenses. I know the kind of situation you can get into when someone tries take something from under you.
Correia said church members are not getting copies of the paperwork from the case. “Some paperwork is getting to Mother Anderson, but not all of it,” she said.
Brown said in the future he will make sure the congregation is notified. A letter by church members was entered into the minutes.
Jong “John” Lee, chair of the Savannah Asian Festival, told the council he was upset that the county health department had cracked down on the festival, resulting in several groups who served ethnic food in the past to withdraw.
“We have no control over that,” Jackson said. “The health department does that to every festival that comes to this city. “
The health department is under the jurisdiction of the Chatham County Commission, Jackson said. She recommended that the committee that organizes the festival talk to the county commission during planning next year.
“The Asian Festival is very important to the city, but there are requirements you have to have with any group,” Jackson said. “We will continue to support the Asian Festival by providing funding and also support it by coming out to the activities.”