Sunday liquor sales: Snellville residents get a vote

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Snellville residents will have the opportunity to vote on Sunday alcohol sales, the mayor said, even as a judge thought about reconsidering an injunction halting the sales.

The City Council will meet in specially called meetings Monday and Thursday to set up a July 20 referendum, while Judge Mark Lewis decides whether to allow a new trial.

During a court hearing Friday, City Attorney Tony Powell argued for the new trial based on new evidence -- an affidavit from Chairman Charles Bannister, a former legislator, explaining the creation of a statute allowing cities in large counties to forego a referendum on Sunday sales if the counties had already had a vote.

Lewis ruled in January that the statute did not preclude another code section that requires a referendum, putting to a halt Sunday sales at establishments in the city just a month after they began.

But he wanted more time to consider the new trial, promising to rule next week.

Immediately after the hearing, Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer announced the call for a referendum.

"We feel we have to do it because our businesses are hurting," he said, pointing to the recent closure of two city restaurants, Fuddruckers and Fazoli's. "It's economics. We're talking about growth. We're talking about prosperity."

Officials have haggled over Sunday sales since a city vote to allow liquor by the drink five years ago. After a technicality stopped the city from a referendum last year, the council voted to allow Sunday sales based on the exception for large counties in the law.

But a group of residents sued late last year.

"It's hurt the city for over five years," Oberholtzer said. "We need to get this behind us. We need to move this forward."

But he said the city would continue the litigation to clear up the question on the state law, even if it means pursuing the case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Councilwoman Kelly Kautz said she would push for the lawsuit to be dropped.

"We don't need to bicker over who is right and who is wrong over a legal issue," she said. "We should put it all behind us."