The Cobb County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday denied a waiver request by Walmart for a location on Barrett Parkway in South Cobb County to be allowed to sell packaged beer and wine, with commissioners voting against the waiver stating that the supercenter didn't have sufficient evidence that alcohol sales wouldn't affect a nearby church.
The waiver is needed because the the store is fewer than 600 feet from Pine Grove Baptist Church in Powder Springs, the distance required by the county's ordinance. According to the ordinance, a waiver may be granted for a business closer than 600 feet to a school or church if it can show that the sale of alcohol won't affect property values or adversely affect the use of the institution. Evidence presented by Walmart's attorney used a nearby Race Trac as an example. That convenience store, which is more than 600 feet from the church, has been selling beer and wine for several years.
"No evidence has been presented to this board today within 600 feet," Commissioner Bob Ott said. "We're asked to extrapolate."
However, Chairman Tim Lee, who cast the only dissenting vote, said that he interpreted Walmart's argument to show that the church's property value hasn't decreased since Race Trac has sold alcohol.
"My reading of this is slightly different than yours," Lee told Ott.
Commissioner Joann Birrell agreed with her colleagues that approving the waiver would set a precedent.
"Laws are made for a reason," she said. "Whether they're antiquated or not, that remains to be seen. The law is the law. I think we need to look at the 600 foot rule and abide by that today."
Eleven people attended the meeting in opposition to the waiver request. Kenneth Carroll, a deacon at Pine Grove Baptist, said that Walmart tried six years ago to persuade the church to sign an agreement to let them sell alcohol.
"We told them that based on scriptural standards we could not and would not," Carroll told the BOC. "They seemed pleased with that and went on their way."
Carroll said that this isn't a matter of property values but of honoring children and the house of God, which he said are our two biggest assets.
"We feel like alcohol is an addiction, a drug," he said.
Church pastor Bobby Wood said that there are many people who shop at that specific Walmart because it doesn't offer beer or wine.
"We feel like there are already enough places to buy beer if they want to," Wood said. "If they're interested in meeting the needs of their customers, they need to sell gasoline."
However, Greta Lindqvist, front end assistant store manager, said that she's never had a customer thank her for not selling beer and wine. In fact, most people ask her why the store doesn't sell alcohol.
"I have to direct them to the Race Trac or another store," Lindqvist told the BOC. "A lot of times, it ends with them saying, 'I'm sorry', handing me their buggy and leaving so they can make all their purchases in one place.
Attorney Jarrod Loadholt, who represented Walmart, said that county records show that, in the last several years, none of the properties mentioned during the hearing have seen a decrease in property values.
"Every party has seen their property values increase or, in the church's case, remain the same the entire time Race Trac has been selling beer and wine," Loadholt said.
Wood said he was happy with the outcome of the hearing.
"We're just happy that the board saw it our way," he said. "They saw what we saw, that the law was written for a purpose."
But, the pastor said he thinks Walmart will try again to get a waiver from Cobb County.
"I think they'll continue," he said. "They may wait a while. I don't know why they waited six years, but they tried it."