Separating Church, Schools and Booze in St. Andrews

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ST. ANDREWS-- Panama City Commissioners are considering a change to one of the City's alcohol ordinances. The proposal would eliminate the distance bars have to be located from churches and schools, but only in St. Andrews.

Panama City has a mandatory 500 foot buffer between bars and churches and schools. The only exception is Downtown Panama City, where commissioners did away with the buffer to help create an Entertainment District. Now they're considering the same move for St. Andrews.

The proposal is "From 15th Street, south down Beck Avenue, encompassing the Marina, and one block to Bay View and then one block to Chestnut," said Mike Nichols, Panama City Commissioner Ward 3

Enzo's Pizza owner, David Hass, says he can't sell alcohol at his restaurant because of the 500 foot buffer law. He said, "A lot of our customers, ask for beer and wine, right now they bring their own."

The vacant lot across from the Historic St. Andrews Church on 11th Street would be a prime location for a new restaurant. The pastor says he's all for improving St. Andrews, so long as it doesn't affect the church's ability to conduct business. "If a church decided to locate into a strip mall where there was already an establishment that served alcohol in place, I wouldn't want the church to be able to be prohibited from being able to do that as well. I see the regulations affecting both directions," said Pastor Richard Duncan.

There has not been a surge in the number of bars since commissioners changed the ordinance in Downtown Panama City, but business owners say they've seen an increase in their business.

Community leaders predict it will do the same for St. Andrews. "It's a hindrance to them and I think it would be a positive thing for St. Andrews," said Dutch Sanger, Downtown Improvement Board Executive Director.

Panama City Commissioners will discuss the proposed change during Tuesday's commission meeting. The final vote won't come until the end of the month.