January 17, 2007

Okaloosa County to Review Alcohol Sales Law: Local MADD Chapter Wants Commissioners to Close Loophole That Allows Some Businesses to Operate Within 1,500 Feet of Homes, Churches and Schools

By Jeff Ayres, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

Jan. 17--FORT WALTON BEACH -- The Okaloosa County Commission didn't take up a request Tuesday from Mothers Against Drunk Driving to change part of its alcoholic-beverage ordinance, but will review toughening the entire law.

The county's staff is expected to research the issue over the next couple of months. A public hearing is likely to be scheduled on the entire ordinance, not necessarily just the provision MADD wanted to remove. Commissioner Don Amunds said that might help "put more teeth into the ordinance." MADD's Okaloosa chapter asked the county to eliminate a provision in the law that allows certain restaurants, hotels and motels to serve alcoholic drinks within 1,500 feet of homes, churches and schools. The change wouldn't have affected businesses now operating within the 1,500-foot limit. The county generally bars the sale of alcohol within 1,500 feet of residential areas, churches and schools.

But an exemption is provided for establishments that are at least 2,500 square feet, can serve meals to up to 150 people at a time and collect at least 51 percent of their gross revenue from sales of food and nonalcoholic drinks.

That exemption is spilling hordes of drunk drivers onto roads and potentially into quiet neighborhoods, threatening residents' safety, said MADD volunteer Katy Krueger.

"You don't put a bar next to a school," homes or churches, she said. "That's unethical. It is not logical ... to prohibit small bars (from locating near homes) but allow larger ones."

She said more than 400 Okaloosa residents signed a petition supporting the change.

But several commissioners said revising part of the ordinance wouldn't be decisive enough in reducing drunk driving.

They said the issue is best left to law enforcement, and wondered if changing the law would unfairly lump responsible businesses that sell alcohol with their more questionable counterparts.

"We're looking at a lot of jobs ... not all of them are bad businesses," James Campbell said.

Commissioner John Jannazo has said MADD's proposal raises many good points.

He added Tuesday that the best way to not lump good and not-so-good businesses together "is to not have the establishment there in the first place."

Daily News Staff Writer Jeff Ayres can be reached at 863-1111, Ext. 444.


Copyright (c) 2007, Northwest Florida Daily News, Fort Walton Beach

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