The Columbia County Board of Education on Tuesday night refused to vote on a request for a waiver of distance requirements from a restaurant that is planning to serve alcohol.
Located across Owens Road from Bel Air Elementary School, the property owned by Rhinehart's Oyster Bar does not meet the 200-yard distance requirement required by law to obtain an alcoholic beverage license.
The board had given tentative approval to the waiver at the March 25 meeting, but four weeks later some members and the school board's attorney said they hadn't had time to review the ordinance.
"It puts us in a situation where we are getting involved in stuff we don't need to be involved in," said Board Chairman Wayne Bridges. "... I'm not sure anybody knows what this ordinance says."
Neighboring residents presented the board with a petition with 244 signatures opposing the waiver. The board's refusal to vote on the matter left them without answers.
"I thought they were very wishy-washy and didn't come to the point. They knew what the point was," said Mell Knight, an Idylwildesubdivision resident who was at the meeting to oppose the waiver.
When the proposal was first presented, board members were ready to approve it.
Bridges then said he didn't have a problem approving the waiver since Rhinehart's was a "longstanding restaurant in the community."
County attorney Doug Batchelor said because the property did not meet the county's distance requirement, the restaurant's owner had the option of petitioning the school's owner - the board - to waive that requirement.
County Planning and Zoning Director Jeff Browning said distance is measured from the front door of the establishment that serves alcohol in a straight line to the nearest point of the property line of the school.
Though the restaurant is planned for two parcels totaling 2.1 acres, neither meets the distance requirement.
"The best we have is the property line farthest from the school is 598 feet, not quite the 200 yards required by law," Browning said.
If approved, the waiver would have cleared the way for the owners of Rhinehart's Oyster Bar to obtain a liquor license. County commissioners in March rezoned one of the parcels from residential to C2 (commercial). The other parcel and those around it was already zoned commercial.
R. Craig Bailey is listed as the potential license holder on the waiver request. He has not returned repeated phone calls.
Mr. Browning said the school board is the only entity that can take action in this case and there is no appeals process.
"There is no body that can take alternative action," he said.
Applebee's is near Evans Middle School, but Browning said it meets the distance requirement and is roughly 674 feet from the school's property line.
"There is a church in between there, but for everything else but schools - churches, parks - that requirement is 100 yards or 300 feet," Browning said. "It's only schools that have to meet the more onerous requirement of 200 yards or 600 feet."
Also at the meeting:
The board heard a plea from ComputerOne owner Jimmy Bennett to reconsider its move to change the way it buys computers this year.
Under a new proposal, computer purchases would be made through the Georgia Technology Authority and Western States Contracting Alliance, which have negotiated contracts with four "tier-one" vendors - HP/Compaq, Dell, Gateway and IBM. School officials said years of buying generic computers has created problems with having to stock parts and repair different units. Buying from a major name-brand company would provide consistency, officials said.
"Two hours ago I was crawling under a desk at Harlem High School repairing a computer, and then I delivered a unit to Mr. (Assistant Principal Bill) Morris. I don't think Michael Dell would do that," said Bennett, who supplied about 700 computers to the system last year.
The board accepted a bid of $905,012 to upgrade electrical equipment in schools. The bid excluded Evans Middle School, which the school system is hoping the state will declare surplus so it can sell the property and build a new school.
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