KNOXVILLE, TN - The Knoxville City Council will vote Tuesday on an ordinance that has kept churches and breweries apart for years. The change would no longer require allow churches and places receiving a beer permit to be located more than 300 feet apart.
“In my mind, it makes sense to remove that restriction for churches,” said Knoxville City Councilman Finbarr Saunders.
Saunders and his colleagues recently received a letter signed by ten churches encouraging the change. He believes the current law is inconvenient for churches and breweries, both of which are increasingly choosing more creative locations.
“They’re in shopping centers or in office buildings or in some cases, even right next to a bar," he said.
Saunders said breweries can also work around the current law.
“You can walk right around it by going to the state and getting the ABC license to serve wine and whiskey,” he said.
According to local brewery owner Aaron McClain, it isn't that easy.
"There are mountains of paperwork and it costs thousands of dollars," said McClain, owner of Crafty Bastard Brewery.
McClain is referring to a $1,000 annual licensing fee required by the Tennessee Alcohol Beverage Commission. That is in addition to a $300 application fee and over $2,000 in fines from the city and county. A change in the current city law would eliminate almost all of those costs for local bars and breweries.
"It's disproportionately affecting small businesses, small breweries," said McClain.
His brewery is next to St. John's Lutheran Church, requiring him to purchase state permits instead of city permits. Pastor Stephen Misenheimer also supports a change in the current law.
“As the church has changed over the years, so has the need for laws to be changed," Misenheimer said.
He said the relationship between breweries and churches has deeper ties than one might think.
"Martin Luther, it's said, was one of the original craft brewers," Misenheimer said.
This is the second attempt by the city council to pass such a law. The first attempt which failed included the separation of beer permits and other entities such as schools and daycare facilities. This one focuses on churches, which councilman Saunders says is a less controversial topic.
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