In about two months, you’ll be able to walk into a restaurant and buy a beer in Williamsburg any day of the week, including Sundays.
During a special called meeting Wednesday morning, Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison cast the deciding yes vote to approve the city’s alcohol ordinance, which includes alcohol sales after 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Harrison said he respects all the opinions, which have been expressed about the issue, but that "my job overall is to look at what is best for the whole town.
"I love the town. I don’t want to see it bursting at the seams with honky tonks. It is an economic issue to me so I am going to vote yes."
Harrison said that he spoke with a restaurant owner he knows, who has restaurants in numerous cities and has served about 15 million people.
The restaurant owner told him that he has yet to have someone complain to him about Sunday alcohol sales once they started.
In Williamsburg the mayor is only allowed to vote when there is a tie and this was the first time in Harrison’s nearly eight years as mayor that he has cast a vote during a council meeting.
Council members Chet Riley, Mary Ann Stanfill and Laurel West all voted for the ordinance. Council members Troy Sharp, Richard Foley and Erica Harris all voted against it.
Harrison admits that he was a little surprised by the tie vote of the council.
"I knew going into this that there was some apprehension on the part of some of the council members," he said. "I didn’t know how they would vote. I had never really polled them."
Explaining their decision
Several council members explained their rationale before casting their votes.
"I have struggled long and hard with this decision," West noted. "I vote yes on this ordinance. I hope the citizens, who disagree with me, will forgive me going against their view point."
She said she looked at both sides of the issue and that since the last meeting she did a lot of research on the Internet over the issue of alcohol ranging from prohibition ending to the effects of restaurants that serve alcohol and the effects of bars on communities.
West said that her research shows that the most problems with alcohol are in areas with full-blown bars.
"I looked up separation of church and state," she said. "I have my Christian beliefs and I have my duty to the community and to council."
West noted she agrees with many of the views that people opposed to alcohol sales and Sunday sales have expressed.
"I have to go with not fears, but what I know and what I have seen through solid research, not opinions," she added.
Both West and Stanfill noted that many of the questions they have gotten from constituents over the years have dealt with why no one was putting restaurants in Williamsburg.
"Since I have been on the council the number one question that has been brought to me by our citizens is why can’t we get new restaurants in our community," Stanfill said.
She said the best day for restaurants in a community the size of Williamsburg are Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"Sunday sales have been respectfully set at 2 p.m. I have complete confidence in Chief (Wayne) Bird and our police force to enforce the very strict regulations of this law," Stanfill said.
She added that many people, who are old enough, can probably remember the "blue laws," which restricted any kind of shopping on Sunday whether it was for gas, groceries or clothes.
"Changes can be hard," Stanfill said. "The community and especially our mayor have worked many hours and years to get sit down restaurants to come to our city.
"There is certain criteria. A town of our size has trouble sealing the final deal. I believe we need to stay competitive with surrounding cities so we do not have another strike against us in achieving this goal."
Stanfill said she respects the opinions of everyone involved, but to her the matter is a business decision for the city.
Harris said she agrees with much of what West and Stanfill said but that she had to vote no on the issue.
The council spent about 10 minutes discussing the ordinance before voting Wednesday.
Foley commended Harrison for his work putting the ordinance together.
His biggest issue with the ordinance was the fines for violations, which he felt were too low.
"If these people are violating the law, they should feel it in the pocketbook," Foley noted.
Harrison said that the fines are identical to what other cities have and he noted there may be a statutory limit on how high the fines can be.
Harrison said he would research the issue and that the council could always increase the fines with an amendment at a later date.
Sharp inquired about restaurants being able to serve alcohol until 2 a.m., and about prohibitions in the ordinance against allowing parties.
Harrison said the intention of the ordinance is to allow restaurants to stay open with customers inside after midnight to ring in the new year.
Williamsburg Police Chief Wayne Bird said that his department would make increased patrols on New Year’s Even, and would address the situation if anything came up.
Bird noted the ordinance goes beyond state statutes and has "a lot of teeth" in it regarding enforcement.
Did their homework
Harrison commended council members for doing their research on the matter no matter how they voted Wednesday.
"They did their due diligence. They had personal convictions and weighed both sides. I think that is what a good council does and I think this is a good council," Harrison said.
"They obviously showed that they are not going to rubber stamp everything. They go out and do what they are supposed to do as council members and did some more research. I think they all gave good reasoning."
Harrison admits that he is happy there is going to be seven-day sales which he admits he was pushing from an economic and business standpoint.
"I am happy it turned out like it did. I can go back and call these people and say we are going to have seven-day sales. Maybe they will take a look at us a little bit harder," he added.
About a dozen people opposed to Sunday alcohol sales attended Monday’s regularly scheduled council meeting when the first reading of the ordinance was held and five of them spoke out against alcohol sales.
Wednesday’s special meeting was more sparsely attended with no one speaking out on the issue during the meeting.
Retired Judge Blaine Stewart and Pat Marple, who headed up the alcohol opposition group, were only community members present for Wednesday’s meeting, who opposed the Sunday alcohol sales.
Marple declined to make any comments after the meeting.
Stewart noted the vote went pretty much as he expected, and that it was about as close as the alcohol referendum election, which was decided by a 14-vote margin.
Harrison said he will now put together an application packet which he has already been working on and get it to interested parties.
The city will start taking alcohol sales applications on May 20.
After an application is approved locally, it then goes to the state which often takes 30 to 60 days to approve an application.
Harrison estimates it would probably be late July or early August before any alcohol sales take place.