UNICOI — Now that the referendum allowing the retail sales of wine and liquor within the limits of the town of Unicoi has passed, Mayor Johnny Lynch said interest from people hoping to be among the first to a open package store in town has been immediate.
“From what I can tell right now, there’s been about five different inquiries about that,” Lynch said Friday. The referendum was passed in Tuesday’s election, with 845 voting in favor of allowing package stores to locate in town compared to 695 voting against the referendum.
But before any retail package stores can set up shop, several steps, including those to comply with state law and those recommended by the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, are to be carried by interested entrepreneurs and the town.
First, the town must submit the certified election results on the referendum to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The town may then develop an ordinance pertaining to the package stores, and the town of Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen must pass the ordinance on two readings. MTAS recommends that this ordinance include language specifying the number of establishments that can be operated by a retailer. It also recommends that the town’s ordinance specify where package stores can be located within the town’s limits, such as specifying how many feet the business must be from a school and/or church and specifying that the stores can only located within areas zoned for the purpose of retail businesses.
MTAS also recommends that the town outline the design of the package store buildings, including specification on the number of entrances, a store’s minimum interior square footage and requiring burglar alarms be located inside the premises. It further suggests the ordinance contains language limiting the number of package stores to which licenses will be issued by the town, language to restrict consumption of alcoholic beverages on the premises and restrictions on “amusement devices,” such as televisions, games and radios, as well as seating facilities, that may entice customers to congregate in the store.
Violations of the town’s ordinance and language regarding inspection fees should also be spelled out, according to MTAS.
Once the town’s ordinance passes its final reading, it can begin taking applications for certificates of compliance from interested parties. These applications must be completed by the potential owner or owners of a store. Applicants must agree to comply with state and town laws, according to MTAS, which also said the town’s board of mayor and aldermen hold public hearings and consider applications at its meetings.
Town of Unicoi Recorder Larry Rea said Friday that town officials were still waiting to hear back from MTAS officials to work on ironing out specifics of what the town should look to include in its ordinance. Rea also said that while the item is not on its agenda, the town’s Planning Commission may discuss package store facilities at its meeting Monday.
Lynch said because of the research and work required before the town can begin accepting applications, it could be several months before the town sees its first package store.
“I’m saying it’ll be the first of the year before we really can offer it out there,” Lynch said.