Sunday liquor sales: Snellville referendum passes first hurdle

SNELLVILLE -- A special-called meeting of the Snellville City Council on Monday was the first step in achieving a referendum on Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants.

The call for a referendum made it through the first reading on a unanimous 6-0 vote by the council Monday night, in the midst of litigation over the council's December vote to allow restaurants to serve patrons alcohol on Sundays.

That vote was reversed by a magistrate judge three weeks later, who called it an "illegally passed ordinance" and pointed out the need for a citizen-voted referendum.

A second special meeting on Thursday will likely make the proposed July 20 referendum a reality.

Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said he expects no further holdups.

"People realize that with the economy we've got to be doing things to allow businesses to be successful," he said. "It gives us revenue to keep the quality of life we have here in Snellville."

The proposed referendum, city attorney Tony Powell said, would be worded as a simple yes or no question: "Should the governing authority of the city of Snellville be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits and alcoholic beverages?"

If passed, the new ordinance is "identical" to the one that council members voted on in December, Powell said.

The ordinance would allow restaurants that make more than 50 percent of their revenue from food sales to sell alcoholic beverages between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and midnight on Sundays.

When Judge Mark A. Lewis issued the initial injunction, local restaurants like Mellow Mushroom reported they had seen as much as a 20 percent increase in revenue during the three-week span they were allowed to pour on Sundays.

That, Oberholtzer said, is the key factor in trying to get Sunday sales back in business.

"It's different now, because people actually understand that it does provide an economic benefit," he said. "We've shown that. There's no argument anymore."

Thursday's 6 p.m. meeting is open to the public, and the council will be ready for resident input, Oberholtzer said.