LAKE PLACID - Ministers and some from the public spoke against changes in the town's alcohol ordinance, but the town council maintained its belief that the changes were necessary to improve the downtown business climate.
Bolstered by the positive comments from the business community, the town council on Monday voted unanimously to approve the final reading of the alcohol ordinance changes that allows the sale of alcoholic beverages to start at 7 a.m. on Sundays instead of 1 p.m. and removes the ban on alcohol sales within 800 feet of a church or school.
The town will continue to observe a state law that bans alcohol sales within 500 feet of a school.
Councilman Ray Royce said he was comfortable with the language of the ordinance and noted that members of the public were present who wanted to comment on the issue.
Memorial United Methodist Church Visitation Pastor Jerry McCauley said he loved small towns and remembered that when he grew up stores were closed on Sundays, which was a day of worship and family togetherness.
"The moral tone of America is on a downward turn," he said. "I think it is going to be a continued downward trend to allow alcoholic beverages to be sold before one o'clock in the afternoon on Sundays. I don't think anybody needs to start getting drunk at 7 a.m. in the morning."
He asked why the town was doing this?
Lake Placid Chamber of Commerce Director Ken LeBlanc spoke on behalf of the chamber's downtown revitalization committee.
"We were pleasantly surprised when we heard the town was working on removing this ordinance and this [church] distance requirement," he said. "It's positive for the downtown revitalization effort, which is just now getting started."
The committee would like to see more sidewalk cafes in the downtown area and more areas where people can be served wine or beer with their meal, LeBlanc said. They don't have an opinion on changing the Sunday hours for alcohol sales.
Church of the Nazarene Pastor Tim Taylor said he knows that council is interested in advancing the town, but there may be other ways to do that other than dealing with the alcohol issue.
He asked what other options the town council has considered to bring more business to the downtown area?
Councilman Mike Waldron noted that along with the alcohol issue, the council would be discussing creating a community redevelopment agency.
Waldron said he has been on the council for about two years and this is probably one of five times that the council chambers has been full.
"I hate to see that it takes this to get our people in this community to come forward to help us with the downtown community," he said.
Some people feel its okay to have a steak with a glass of wine, but you can't do that in downtown Lake Placid, he said. You can drive to the restaurants on U.S. 27 in Sebring where there are no hindrances for those businesses.
Councilwoman Debra Worley said an enterprize zone was created to help the downtown business, but the downtown is struggling.
Town Attorney Bert Harris, III, also addressed Taylor's question about what other efforts are helping the downtown.
Over the past 25 years about $3 million in grants have been used for streetscaping projects, streetlights, rebuilding roads and putting in sidewalks.
"We've tried to better regulate signs so you didn't have clutter so that some signs could be seen," he said. "At times you get too many and they all just disappear because of the clutter."
The city has more than tripled its utilities to make sure they are available to members of the community and businesses, Harris said.
Mayor John Holbrook said there have been many things done to help the downtown businesses, but it is a slow process.
"We just have to look at everything and try to come up with ideas that are going to benefit the whole community," he said.
The alcohol changes became effective with the council's approval of the ordinance.