Winston-Salem reviewing social district alcohol consumption options after NC Senate clears bill | Govt-and-politics |

2022-06-29 22:06:32 By : Ms. Helen Lu

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The N.C. Senate passed Wednesday an N.C. House bill that would clarify how local communities — such as downtown Winston-Salem — can designate social districts where alcoholic beverages can be carried and consumed outside.

A revamped version of House Bill 211 was approved by a 37-6 vote during what Republican legislative leaders project will be the final week of the current phase of the 2022 session.

The bill has been sent to the House for approval of Senate changes to the bill. The legislation would go into effect immediately if HB211 becomes law.

What HB211 does is clarify where an individual may possess an open container of fortified wine or spirituous liquor in a social district or designated consumption area.

"This should provide (local governments) a roadmap for successful design, implementation and management of the social district(s) they desire to establish," said Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson.

Aaron King, assistant city manager for Winston-Salem, said Wednesday "it appears that HB211 attempts to clarify how regulations for social districts relate to ABC rules."

"The city has discussed the idea of having multiple smaller geographic areas designated as social districts rather than one large district."

King said those discussions have been tabled until either August or September, in part to review what changes and clarifications will be in the final version of HB211.

Local governments would have to submit maps of the social districts to the ABC Commission, and would have to mark the social districts in a way that clearly indicates to customers where the boundaries of the social district are located.

Non-permittee businesses would not be required to allow customers to bring open containers of alcoholic beverages onto their premises. They would not be responsible for enforcing the alcohol laws if they chose to do so.

“However, they have to allow law enforcement officers access to the areas of the premises accessible by customers,” according to the legislative staff report.

King said that "independent of HB211, the main issue for Winston-Salem is the potential impact that social districts have on public safety."

"Our staffing shortages in police have been well documented and police department leadership has concerns about adding additional enforcement responsibilities when they are already short-staffed," King said.

In 2019, the General Assembly established a "common area entertainment permit" that may be issued to the owner of a multi-tenant establishment with at least two tenants who are ABC permittees.

A common area is defined as including "portions of a building or structure and outdoor areas that are used jointly by multiple businesses on a property or within a planned development project, whether such areas are under common ownership or are subject to cross access easements for use by multiple businesses."

The permit allows customers of tenants holding ABC permits to take alcoholic beverages sold in a specific container off the tenants' premises into a common area in the multi-tenant establishment. The common area is operated during specific days and hours set by the owner of the multi-tenant establishment.

In 2021, the law was expanded to allow local governments to adopt ordinances to create social districts, which are defined as "a defined outdoor area in which a person may consume alcoholic beverages sold by a permittee."

The local government entity would set the hours and days that a social district operates.

The designation of a social district allows customers of ABC permittees contiguous to the social district to take alcoholic beverages sold in a specific container off the permittees' premises into the social district.

The town of Madison said Wednesday it will debut a downtown social district on Friday.

The hours will be 5 to 11 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Madison officials cited the 2011 extension of the state law as the impetus for creating the social district.

“After much consideration, our town leaders were able to determine the economic impact having a designated social district could have on our town,” Kevin Baughn, Madison's town manager, said in a statement.

“Being the first social district in the county, Madison’s local businesses and Downtown area now have an even more unique draw for our residents and visitors to enjoy.”

The boundaries of the social district are identified by signs, and all alcoholic beverages must be purchased and consumed within those boundaries.

Hell on Horsecreek, Southern Spirits, Gia’s Distillery, Wine Nox and Madison Cork Supply are participating ABC permittees and will be able to sell and serve beverages on their own premises for consumption throughout the social district.

All alcoholic beverages will be required to be served in clear plastic cups, no larger than 16 ounces that display the social district logo, the ABC permittee that served the beverage, and “Drink Responsibly — Be 21.”

Alcoholic beverages purchased from one ABC permittee are not allowed to be taken into another ABC permittee’s premises.

“The implementation of the social district will make downtown Madison a more inviting place for people to visit, stay and shop,” said Bobbie Webster, president of Madison Merchants Guild.

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