In the end, Elizabethton City Council members kept their same leadership and voted to amend a city ordinance to permit a craft beer type pub bar in downtown Elizabethton.
The amendment to allow pub bars drew a divided crowd to Thursday’s meeting, and many spoke during an extended public comment period. Mayor Curt Alexander allowed as many people who wanted to speak on the matter without interruption.
Alexander said at the beginning he would only permit three minutes for each speaker, but he did not stop anyone from speaking longer. And while all the speakers limited themselves to a short talk and stuck to the points they were making, the public discussion went on for more than an hour before Alexander paused, looked through the audience and found no one else wanted to speak. He even allowed one woman to speak twice.
Alexander asked if any council members wished to speak. When no one did, he called for a roll call vote, and the amendment to allow pub bars was approved by a 5-1 vote, with only Bill Carter voting against it.
The pre-vote debate was emotional but civil. Most of those who spoke against the amendment provided emotional descriptions of how alcohol and ruined lives of those addicted to it and the lives of the children and families of alcoholics. Others spoke of how innocent lives were taken by drunk drivers.
Carla Hayes was one of many who said the amendment would have an adverse effect on the community, calling Elizabethton “a beautiful little city” that would be blighted by a bar in its downtown. “We don’t need it in the city of Elizabethton.”
Lawrence Hodge recalled bars in Stoney Creek and elsewhere that had stabbings and shootings nearly every weekend. Several pastors spoke of their experiences in trying to help the families of alcoholics.
Chris Little defended the young couple seeking to open the pub, noting the city had already made the decision to allow the sale of beer. He said every grocery store, every convenience store, every gas station and every drug store sold beer and it would be available whether the pub bar was opened or not.
He said alcoholics would not go to a pub bar to buy a bottle of craft beer at $6; he said they would go to the grocery store, where they could buy a six-pack for $6.
Several speakers noted the difference in the ages of those who spoke for or against the amendment.
Those who were against were mostly older people, many of whom spoke of the need to protect the young from the temptations of an upscale establishment selling alcohol. Those who supported husband and wife Michael Howell and Cheri Tinney were in their 20s.
Many had come in contact with the couple through their activities with the Downtown Farmers Market, where Tinney has been one of the directors.
Donica Krebs was a leader in founding the farmers market, and spoke about how many of the sellers were also in their 20s and looking for ways to start local small businesses. She said that was the motivation for Howell and Tinney.
Krebs and her husband recently started a bed and breakfast and said most of her customers were in their 20s. Although she said she always emphasized the attractions in Carter County, she said her guests invariably chose to go to Johnson City for dining and shopping.
She saw that as an answer for downtown Elizabethton. She said the city had to consider its future by “drawing a younger crowd.”
Howell and Tinney celebrated the vote; it was their interest in opening an establishment specializing in serving locally brewed craft beers that led to the Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission recommendation to amend the land use ordnance.
Now that the amendment has been approved on second and final reading, Tinney said they are going ahead on getting their business opened to the public. Their establishment will be in the last building on the eastern end of downtown at 635 E. Elk Ave. Tinney said they hope to have the business open by early March.
After the vote, Howell said “it feels really amazing to have had the support of so many friends who spoke out for us.”
One of those supporters circulated a petition, which was presented to City Council with 500 signatures supporting the pub bar.
City Council will consider some adjustments to the pub bar regulations, which should be heard on first and second reading in January and February. Those matters were discussed in a workshop session the Council held on Wednesday.
Before the pub discussion, council voted 6-0 to keep Alexander as mayor, and also 6-0 to keep Carter as mayor pro-tem.
The decision came quickly at the start of Thursday night’s meeting, but it looked at the beginning that there might have been a try for a new mayor. Newly elected Councilman Richard Barker was first with a nomination for mayor, and he nominated Carter. Carter immediately spoke up to say he declined the nomination and instead nominated Alexander for another term as mayor.
Kim Birchfield was sick and did not attend the meeting, leading to the 6-0 votes.