Tuesday night was a long one for supporters of the proposed Main and Six Brewing Company in Springfield.
The project, part of a lineup of potential new businesses in Springfield, was subject to a public hearing at the Land Use Zoning committee meeting. It had already gone through this process successfully once before, but was referred back to the committee because of a technicality. Around 100 residents showed up Tuesday to witness the meeting and show support.
The brewery had to apply for a waiver to a provision in the city’s Code of Ordinances. Specifically, it needed to avoid a provision in Chapter 656, Section 805 that states: “There shall be not less than 1,500 feet from an established school or church for the on-premises consumption of alcoholic beverages, not in conjunction with the service of food, except as specifically provided herein.” (It failed to notify three churches last time, hence why it was referred back to committee.)
This is particularly problematic for attempts at development in the Springfield area. Debbie Thompson, vice president of Springfield Improvement Association, pointed out during Tuesday night’s hearing that almost every bit of property in Springfield lies within 1,500 feet of at least one church or school.
As she and several passionate Springfield residents pointed out, that means any development seeking to serve alcohol will almost certainly have to come before the zoning committee.
The provision itself is a product of antiquated priorities, as well as influence from church groups who believe alcohol consumption promotes sinful behavior. At Tuesday’s hearing, it was clear that this mentality is still present in the city.
George Carter, one of only two citizens to speak in opposition to the Main and Six project’s approval, identified himself as a deacon of the Westside Baptist Church and insisted that the neighborhood must choose between “a brewery or salvation.” He also claimed that the “Christian way” is to abstain from the consumption of alcohol.
Both remarks drew light chuckles from the crowd, but it’s clear that the committee takes Carter and the people he represents very seriously. Councilman Reggie Gaffney alluded to a desire to see churches and businesses working together, and insisted that residents needed to try to understand where the church is coming from on these issues.
Gaffney also proposed an amendment that would forbid any consumption of alcohol on any patio areas on Wednesdays and Sundays, which was agreed to by applicant Zach Miller.
Councilman Doyle Carter argued against the fact that Miller, in his re-application, changed the wording to encompass all churches and schools rather than naming each one individually. His concern seemed to be that a church or school could be missed if this is allowed in the future.
While the Main and Six Brewing project ultimately gained approval after a lengthy discussion process, it remains to be seen if future projects will have similar fortune or have to jump through similar hoops. Chances are they will.
The distance provision in the Code of Ordinances is one that the city needs to consider revisiting. As seen on Tuesday night, all it does is hinder potential development. The same issue was brought up earlier in the meeting in regards to La Cena’s relocation to a property on Edgewood Ave., and will continue to be brought up in a city dense with churches and schools.
There’s no reason that churches can’t coexist peacefully with neighboring projects that involve alcohol. As multiple residents pointed out during Tuesday’s hearing, there are plenty of examples of cities densely packed with churches that are able to have economic growth by letting in bars, restaurants, and especially breweries.
Jacksonville has a large church-going population, but the vast majority of them are reasonable people. The opposition to projects like this represents an extremely small portion of the city’s religious population – a portion that largely seems stuck in the past.
Unfortunately, the loudest voices are the ones being heard the most – you can expect Carter to be at other similar hearings, along with Pastor Ted Corley of Mission First Coast, who also spoke in opposition Tuesday. These voices are the ones that think churches should be able to have control over governmental matters such as land use, and who think that they know what’s best for the community.
They believe this even when the community shows up to tell them otherwise.
None of this will change until the zoning code is revisited. This cycle will continue, with the same debates and arguments, for future projects that come too close to churches or schools. At some point the city has to take a look at this and wonder if it’s worth chasing away potential development just to appease a small group of residents.