Alcohol distance shortened

Wade McIntyre

The Parish Council voted 6-3 at the regular meeting Thursday to allow alcohol to be served in restaurants from locations 200 feet closer to libraries, churches and day care centers.

State law allows such sales 300 feet away, but in Ascension alcohol sales had been restricted by the Home Rule Charter to 500 feet due to the rural nature of much of the parish.

Although reducing the distance is generally seen as an incentive for creating growth and expansion of business, a majority of people speaking before the council on the subject were against the change for safety reasons involving children and driving.

Commissioner of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Murphy Painter, appeared at the meeting to provide answers to questions from council members. He told the council alcohol issues polarize people in communities throughout the state.

“The issue that you are having is an issue that goes on 10 or 15 times a month through our office,” he said. “It’s always an issue of who wants or doesn’t want something next door to them.”

Councilmen Todd Lambert, George Valentine and Oliver Joseph voted against the ordinance change which was made at the request of a developer who constructed a multi-million dollar strip mall less than 500 feet from the Galvez Library on Hwy. 42 in Prairieville. Councilman Adrian Thompson was absent from the meeting.

The Rev. John Kerrigan spoke against the ordinance saying it would impact schools, churches, libraries and playgrounds, all of which have multi-million facilities in the parish.

“It would devalue the property, take overflow parking into our property,” he said. “All those kinds of things would impact us, litter, drunks.”

But, he said alcohol rules were primarily to protect children, the common denominator found in the facilities that would be affected by the ordinance change.

Former parish councilman and Prairieville resident Doug Hillensbeck was one of the nine persons speaking against the change.

“I live off Hwy. 42 in Prairieville and I’ve seen way too many accidents that are alcohol related,” he said. “I’m in favor the existing ordinance remaining as it is.”

Jonathan Storm was one of two persons speaking in favor of the change. He said reducing the distance would be a help for small businesses who could compete in rural areas better than chain operations.

Councilman Chris Loar, in whose district the library and strip mall are located, said a whole lot of misinformation had circulated about the proposed ordinance. Alcohol is dangerous as are guns, he said, but good behavior and morals cannot be legislated.

“It’s all about restaurants and whether they endanger children,” he said. “I’ve yet to hear a logical, rational argument for exactly how a restaurant would do this.”

Loar offered an amendment to his original ordinance change proposal which adopts the state definition of a restaurant and the proportion of food to alcohol that must be served.

In voicing opposition to the ordinance change, Todd Lambert charged that the council was making the change for one business, rather than as part of the parish master plan.

“Why build a building before looking at an ordinance and then after the building is built come back to us and try to change it?” he asked.

Valentine said alcohol fatal crashes in the parish were up 30 percent, and that Ascension Parish rates number two in the fatal crashes involving ages 15 to 24 in the state.

Hwy. 42 has been the basic road that has been talked about in the parish for accidents, he said.

In an unrelated business matter, the council entered into an agreement with the East Ascension Drainage District which transfers control of the drainage board back to the office of the parish president.

The 6-2 vote mirrored the earlier vote by Drainage District commissioners who voted to return back under the administration umbrella at the Feb. 11 meeting.