City staff members propose rewriting the alcohol ordinance to include significant changes, including cutting back hours and establishing a formal licensing process for businesses offering free alcoholic drinks to customers.

The City Council is expected to begin discussions of the proposed changes next month before taking a vote.

City government currently takes in approximately $900,000 a year from venues serving alcohol through license fees and excise taxes, Assistant City Manager Steve Chapman said. After staff members noticed inconsistencies in the current law, including a requirement that was not being enforced that venues pay for audits by certified public accountants, they decided it was time to take a look at the entire ordinance, Chapman said.

“We decided just to go through the whole code and do a complete rewrite,” Chapman said. “The city has gone from its infancy to its adolescent stage … and as it’s growing we need to make sure certain tools are in place.”

When the city was formed, it cobbled together an alcohol ordinance taking bits and pieces of ordinances from other municipalities.

One mandate that was included, but apparently never enforced, was to require establishments such as bars and restaurants to complete an audit by a certified public accountant. When the city’s Finance Department this fall said it was time to make such establishments do so, there was significant blowback from business owners because such audits can cost $3,000 to $5,000.

Chapman said the city agreed that the cost of those audits was too high, especially since the city could come in and look at the business’ books for little or no cost. The rewrite still requires audits, but not by CPAs, he said.

There has also been the rising concern about local establishments, such as salons, that serve complimentary glasses of champagne or wine to clients.

Allowing businesses to serve free booze was not necessarily allowed under city code, but also was not specifically prohibited, Chapman said. The rewrite clarifies the city’s position. “Before, businesses were just doing it,” Chapman said. “This lets us know who is doing what.”

The alcohol ordinance rewrite proposes adding a “G class” license that allows only beer and wine to be served and requires pours be limited to 8 ounces for beer and 6 ounces for wine. Complimentary service on Sundays would be prohibited between 2 a.m. and 11:59 a.m. The proposal says the permits would be issued only to businesses “that derive zero percent of their gross revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages.”

Cutting back hours for bars and nightclubs has been discussed for some time. Councilmember Joe Gebbia, who represents District 4, which includes Buford Highway, where many late-night establishments are located, has been a major proponent and often raises concerns about the area becoming the “next Buckhead.”

The police continue to make DUI and disorderly conduct arrests along Buford Highway, as well as working numerous accidents in the early morning hours, Police Chief Gary Yandura said.

City officials say regulations need to be tightened because some clubs claim they are restaurants, allowing them to skirt stricter rules for late-night venues. To be considered a late-night venue, a business owner must secure a special land use permit through a public process that requires the expenditure of time and legal fees. Restaurants don’t need SLUPs to operate.

In Brookhaven, last call for late-night venues is set at 2:55 a.m. with closing at 3:30 a.m. Restaurants also may stay open until 3:30 a.m., but must stop serving alcohol at 12:30 a.m. Last call in Atlanta is set at 2:30 a.m. and closing time is 3 a.m., leading many bar hoppers to drive to Buford Highway to keep the party going.

The proposed ordinance rewrite sets Brookhaven’s last call for all venues serving booze at 2:30 a.m., with a closing time of 3 a.m.

“Abuse is taking place,” Gebbia said. “We need to address that.”

The rewrite also recommends prohibiting sexually oriented businesses from serving alcohol. The only such business in the city now is the Pink Pony, a strip club that has an agreement with the city to operate, including selling alcohol, for another four years. In exchange, the strip club pays $225,000 a year to the police department.

The Pink Pony would not be affected by the alcohol ordinance rewrite. But when the club’s agreement with the city expires, and if it wants to remain in the city, it would not be allowed to serve alcohol, Chapman said.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.