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    Separation of churches, bars may end

    Dunedin leaders are poised to eliminate an ordinance regulating alcohol-serving businesses near churches.

    By LEON M. TUCKER
    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published December 11, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- When the Melting Pot restaurant moved out of its space at 2141 Main Street a year ago, Pastor Hal Jacobs took advantage of the opportunity to expand his Living Faith Worship Center.

    But the move wasn't a smooth one.

    "We are in Dunedin because we want to be of help," said Jacobs, who moved his nondenominational church into the Melting Pot's former location. "But it seems like it is easier to put a bar in than a church."

    Some businesses didn't want to see the move. The church could hinder businesses.

    "When we heard about it, we were very unhappy," said Neil Stein, owner of the Copy King printing company, which now has the church as its neighbor. "It would have detrimentally affected our property."

    Stein opposes an ordinance that creates alcohol-free zones around churches in commercial or residential areas. Bars, for example, are banned from moving within 300 feet of churches and alcohol-serving restaurants are allowed no closer than 175 feet.

    The rules, on the books since 1984, also prevent existing businesses from converting to bars or restaurants that sell wine, beer or liquor and prohibits business owners from remodeling, expanding or making other improvements.

    The idea was to protect the sanctity of religious institutions. But business owners say the rules infringe upon their right to make a living.

    Dunedin commissioners apparently agree. Last month, they voted unanimously to kill the rules. They'll log in their final vote Thursday night.

    Current rules could pose problems for commercial businesses, said Kevin Campbell, city community services director. City leaders are left to "trying to do the best we can to preserve everyone's property rights."

    Some pastors are split on the issue.

    Downtown's First Baptist Church is nearly surrounded by bars and restaurants. The pastor there says he understands the reason behind changing the rules.

    "We exist here as a church to minister to the type of people who patronize those bars, so we don't have to go looking for them," said the Rev. William Blosch, pastor of the First Baptist. "But ultimately, because of where we are, I don't think (the ordinance) is going to make a drastic difference."

    The Rev. Jack Taylor said he has maintained a good relationship with Skip's Bar & Grill across the street from First United Methodist Church in downtown. Still, changing the ordinance concerns him.

    "If they did away with the ordinance and did not have a distinction of what type of establishment could be put next to a church (the city) could be asking for trouble," said Taylor. "They need to be careful in the wording so they know what kind of establishment is being established."

    But that, Campbell said, is unlikely to happen. "I can't create an ordinance that says, "You can't have biker bars,"' he said. "If we have a particular bar that creates noise and is a public nuisance, then we deal with it as a code enforcement issue."

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