After 10 years and three tries, Jonesborough passes LBTD measure

By Thomas Wilson

   Jonesborough residents passed a referendum to permit restaurants to serve liquor-by-the-drink in the Nov. 5, 2002 election with a slim margin of 723 for to 703 against.
   The passage came after Jonesborough voters had rejected the referendum three times during the past 10 years.
   "It is a very controversial issue," said Bill Browning, town administrator of Jonesborough.
   After the referendum was approved and the results ratified, the town was tasked with creating ordinances to accommodate potential applicants.
   "We did have to do some preparation," Browning said. "You have to pass an ordinance that requires the permitted restaurant to pay its taxes to the state."
   One twist facing Jonesborough officials was the town did not have a licensing authority for the on-premise consumption of beer or wine prior to passing the liquor-by-the-drink referendum.
   Thus, the town council had to establish criteria that allowed on-premise beer consumption. An applicant seeking an on-premises beer license must also be approved to serve a liquor-by-the-drink license as well, Browning said.
   "We tied it to that permit process," said Browning. "They would have to go through all the same criteria for liquor-by-the-drink."
   Amigo's Restaurant on Highway 11E became the first restaurant in town to receive a liquor-by-the-drink license last month.
   The Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission has no jurisdiction over the serving of beer or the issuance of beer permits. Local municipalities or counties regulate matters regarding beer sales.
   As part of the beer licensing regulation, the town also requires sales of food to comprise 77 percent of an establishment's total revenue. The intention was to encourage applicants oriented towards the restaurant format rather than a sport club format, said Browning.
   Any new restaurant chains coming to town would likely be developed along Highway 11E, Browning said. Future applicants would also be required to abide by the town's stringent zoning ordinances pertaining to its historic district.
   "They would have to get a certificate of occupancy, and we have a landscape ordinance that is a little stronger than most communities," said Browning.
   Another issue facing Jonesborough was the frequent private events held downtown that included the service of alcoholic beverages.
   "There wasn't any place you could fit that under brown bagging," said Browning. The town received some complaints about the legality of that practice, and that seemed to spur some citizens to vote in favor of the referendum, he added.