Monday afternoon members of Brevard’s Public Safety Committee continued discussing the possibility of adding at least one social district where patrons may drink alcohol outside of permitted businesses.
In September 2021 the N.C. General Assembly passed a bill allowing municipalities to create social districts where patrons age 21 and older can legally consume alcoholic beverages in approved outdoor areas with certain stipulations as an exception to open container regulations. Any beer, wine and liquor drinks served in a social district must be provided by state-permitted establishments and served in plastic cups identifying where they were purchased. Customers in these social districts are allowed to take beverages outside of the building and on private property where they are served, but the drinks may only be consumed within the confines of the designated social district area.
A total of 32 municipalities across North Carolina have created social districts and some have more than one within their limits. To create a social district in Brevard, City Council would need to vote on approving a revised ordinance specifying the location and time exceptions to the North Carolina open container law and the social district would need to be registered with the state Alcohol Beverage Control Commission.
Brevard Police Chief Tom Jordan expressed some initial apprehension about the practice in April when the idea of establishing a social district in Brevard came before the committee because he said it would be very easy for an underage person in a social district to be handed a cup from another person or for a person of legal drinking age to be over served by visiting multiple locations within the same social district.
Monday he said he had spoken with 22 police departments across the state where social districts have been created and for most no additional law enforcement issues were created by the practice.
“For the most part, the underlying thing that I started to see when I stated talking to some of these chiefs was that if the partnership between the businesses and the city is good the businesses have been diligent about the ABC compliance components that effect them the numbers of incidents goes way down because in a sense the businesses are policing themselves and keeping things from happening.” Jordan said. “Overall, their concerns were very similar to what I expressed, but they didn’t actually see those things manifest themselves. I wasn’t just looking for good or for bad. I looked for both and got some very good responses back from those chiefs.”
The proposal to create a social district near downtown Brevard is still evolving.
City of Brevard Senior Planner Emily Brewer researched the issue and found different municipalities allow many different days of the week and hours of operation for their respective social districts as well as how those areas are managed. The proposal being considered for Brevard could involve downtown Brevard and the popular King Street nightlife area to be managed by the Heart of Brevard downtown business organization, but for that to happen Heart of Brevard would need to ask its board of directors for permission to offer resources beyond the limits of the downtown business area’s boundaries.
“This is a good start to the conversation where we can look and maybe modify those lines a little bit,” said Committee Co-Chair and Brevard City Councilman Maurice Jones. “As of right now, I like the layout. I envision this corridor as a little circuit all the way from downtown to King Street and back up.”
“The concept is definitely worth trying,” added citizen committee member Kevin Gallow. “I’d like to reserve final preference until we hear more about the Heart of Brevard’s possibility of going beyond their traditional limits and I’d like to see it as a one-year trial just to see if there are any issues or concerns.”
Brevard City Manager Wilson Hooper said discussions about the specifics of the social district plan will continue with the proposal currently scheduled to come before City Council in late August with possible adoption to go into effect during the fall of 2023.
REVISED ENCAMPMENT PROCEDURES
Earlier this month Brevard City Council adopted the city’s first public camping ordinance regarding homeless individuals and groups camping on public property, even though at the time there were concerns about staffing the new initiative scheduled to go into effect July 1.
The new encampment ordinance stipulates the city will post hours of operation on all city property stating those locations will only be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. If the city is notified of someone camping on pubic property, a member of city staff will meet with the people involved and let them know of available services such as emergency shelters and other local resources. At that point, the person camping on public property will have two weeks to vacate the location and representatives from The Haven and/or Blue Ridge Health will have one day to connect with the campers and offer referrals to appropriate homeless services. Monday Hooper said he and Jordan had met with representatives from The Haven of Transylvania overnight shelter and Blue Ridge Health services to offer those in violation of the policy additional time to come into compliance if they have not been able to meet with an outreach worker.
“Essentially, it gives the police chief the ability to allow someone to stay a little bit longer beyond the two-week window if we conclude there have been extenuating circumstances that prevent them from being connected to services,” Hooper said. “They were satisfied with that concept and said as long as there was such a provision in the administrative policy that they would endorse it.” Hooper added that Blue Ridge Health has indicated they are actively trying to hire a mental health outreach worker to fulfill that important part of the new administrative process and that city staff will soon undergo various levels of training before the ordinance goes into effect.
“This is good to see,” said Jones. “I think what we’re doing here increases the goodness in a bad situation.”
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