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Earlier Sunday alcohol sales face another vote by Rowan County commissioners

SALISBURY — A measure that would have extended Sunday alcohol sale hours is on a two-week hold after a split vote by the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Monday.

Allowed by a state law referred to as the “Brunch Bill,” the changes would have allowed restaurants and bars to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays, 10 a.m. at the earliest. It would have required a unanimous vote by the commissioners to pass on its first reading.

Earlier this summer, Salisbury, Kannapolis and Rockwell approved the changes, which are supported by the Rowan County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Residents speaking during Monday’s public hearing were split. Larry Wright and Phillip Wright of Franklin spoke against the measure.

“I think that our county would not be served well by increasing the availability of alcohol on Sunday,” Phillip said. “I was brought up to respect the Sabbath and keep it holy. … I don’t see how you can keep Sunday holy and have a bottle to your mouth.”

He said restricting alcohol sales to after noon is a “religious right,” and he warned commissioners that it smacks of hypocrisy to fight for their right to pray but to bend to supporters of the Brunch Bill.

“You guys and gals ought to have moral courage to stand up and do the right thing for Rowan County,” he said.

Amie Morgan Baudoin, owner and operator of Morgan Ridge Vineyards and Morgan Ridge Railwalk and Brewery, said that she grew up in a Baptist home where drinking wasn’t allowed. But she was also raised to be a businesswoman.

While she, personally, is not fond of the measure, patrons who come for Sunday brunch at Morgan Ridge often request a small drink with their meals.

“We’re trying to protect our investment,” Baudoin said.

Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO James Meacham pointed out that residents can now buy alcohol at the Sheets store on Jake Alexander Boulevard but not at the Pilot gas station down the road because it’s out of the Salisbury city limits. Such a gap does not allow for equal economic development, he said.

“Let’s not get in our own way,” he said.

His comments echoed those of Commissioner Craig Pierce, who spoke passionately about approving the measure as he opened Monday’s public hearing. Pierce argued on behalf of businesses, such as Morgan Ridge Vineyards, that might want to serve alcohol with brunch specials. Not extending the hours puts them at an economic disadvantage, he said.

“It places them on an unlevel playing field to be able to compete with these other areas,” Pierce said.

The county would not be approving the sale of alcohol where it had previously been banned, he said, but just an extension of hours to keep pace with the desires of consumers.

“It’s just simply keeping up with what the modern temperature, so to speak, is right now,” he said.

If the county waits much longer, it will be one of the few remaining entities to not approve the bill. According to tourism director Meacham, 115 municipalities and 17 counties had approved the hours extension as of Monday evening.

“We need to get in front of these issues,” Pierce said.

Other commissioners did not agree.

“I hate this,” Chairman Greg Edds said. “…I wish we didn’t have (alcohol sales) at all on Sundays, to be honest. But here we are.”

But he acknowledged that it isn’t “fair” for businesses to not be able to compete on an equal field countywide. Edds said he is caught between “personal conviction” and being a good representative of the county.

“We’re not asking to approve prostitution for the first time in Rowan County,” he said. “We are talking about a very legal activity, which is already on the books — alcohol sales.”

Other commissioners agreed, saying that while they personally are not fond of the extension, it seems like the best move for the county.

Commissioner Jim Greene pointed out that the extension would apply only to unincorporated areas. Individual municipalities would still have to make their own decisions.

“I think we can solve this. I’d like to invite everybody to church Sunday at 10,” Edds joked.

Commissioner Mike Caskey said he could not approve the extension and contribute to existing alcohol problems in the county.

“I’m not able to vote for this ordinance at this time,” Caskey said.

The measure received a 4-1 vote, with Caskey voting against it. The issue will come back before the board for a second reading at the Oct. 2 meeting, where it could be approved by a simple majority vote.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264. 

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