Referendum gives Chatham residents chance to expand beer sales options

Posted 2/28/20

There are two referenda on this year’s primary ballot for all Chatham County residents. The first took multiple meetings of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to deliberate and …

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Referendum gives Chatham residents chance to expand beer sales options

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There are two referenda on this year’s primary ballot for all Chatham County residents. The first took multiple meetings of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners to deliberate and finalize.

The second took about 15 seconds to formalize.

The commissioners authorized a referendum asking county residents whether they would like to allow “on-premises” sale of malt beverages at places like tap rooms and craft beer breweries with tasting rooms. After Assistant County Manager Bryan Thompson presented the item at the board’s Sept. 16 meeting, a motion was made nearly immediately and the board voted unanimously, without discussion to place the item on the ballot.

But the quickness of the vote doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a lock, if recent history indicates anything.

As of now, restaurants, hotels, breweries and other establishments are allowed to sell beer and other malt beverages like lager, ale, porter and other brewed or fermented beverage for on-premises consumption within the Towns of Pittsboro and Siler City. But in the county’s unincorporated areas, the rules are a bit different — current regulations allow sale at hotels and motels, restaurants, private clubs, community theaters and convention centers. So places like Town Hall Burger & Beer in Briar Chapel, if they have a Malt Beverage Permit, can sell beer.

The referendum on the primary ballot would expand those rights to places like craft breweries and tasting rooms. Examples of those include House of Hops and Fair Game Beverage Company in Pittsboro. But those types of establishments could not exist in unincorporated areas as of now.

That was recognized within the commissioners’ resolution authorizing the referendum: “While certain opportunities already exist within Chatham County for the on premises sale of alcoholic beverages, the County has recognized gaps in the types of permits that may be legally obtained within the County under current authority.”

The Town of Pittsboro has allowed these types of sales since 1971, and the Town of Siler City authorized on- and off-premises sales of both malt beverages and unfortified wine this past November. But those votes were not sure things — 53 percent of Siler City residents voted yes for malt beverages and 54 percent voted in favor of the unfortified wine referendum.

After the Siler City referenda, Oasis Open Air Market Owner Jackie Adams said she felt the change would “put Siler City on par to make headway in social and economic endeavors as other small successful N.C. towns have done already.” This economic angle was referenced in Thompson’s presentation to commissioners last September, as he cited the Chatham County Comprehensive Plan’s goal to “diversify the tax base and generate more quality, in-county jobs to reduce dependence on residential property taxes, create economic opportunity and reduce out-commuting.”

North Carolina ranks 7th nationally for the number of breweries that brew and sell craft beer in the state with craft beer sales creating an economic impact of $2 billion annually, according to the Brewers Association. The industry also creates about 12,000 jobs and $300 million in annual wages in the state. It’s seen a boom in recent years, going from 45 such breweries in 2010 to 260 in 2018.

Asked about the referendum, Chatham Economic Development Corporation President Alyssa Byrd said not only would the referendum create “consistent” rules across the county, it would improve quality of life in the area.

“Bottle shops and craft breweries are most often locally-owned small businesses, and frequently serve as community gathering spaces,” she said. “This is a good opportunity for the expansion of both new and existing businesses.”

The ballot item asks voters to say yes or no to the statement “To permit the ‘on-premises’ and ‘off-premises’ sale of malt beverages.” Early voting continues until Saturday, and primary election day is March 3.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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