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Beer drinkers down Bible thumpers in Jacksonville microbrewery debate

For a second time this fall, Tuesday’s meeting of the Jacksonville City Council’s Land Use and Zoning committee voted in favor of allowing a microbrewery to open in Springfield at 1636 N. Main St.

The vote was 4-1 in favor this time, with Doyle Carter the sole opponent.

But it took a long, long time to get there.

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Some cities, such as Orlando, relax zoning rules to attract these businesses, which often gentrify areas like the pallid collection of disused and misused storefronts on that stretch of Main Street.

In Jacksonville, there has been resistance though, with area preachers and those who love them equating the emergence of a microbrewery with social malaise running the gamut from alcoholism to prostitution.

One potential wrinkle with this bill: the proposed brewery is too close to five churches and one school. It is 505 feet from the school and within 1,500 feet of the churches.

Of course, within walking distance of the proposed location, there are dozens of churches.

Though the city’s planning commission and planning department approved the measure, and LUZ approved the measure by a 5-2 vote in September, it was re-referred to the committee after a fractious public hearing at the council earlier in October, in which the district councilman, Reggie Gaffney, suggested the craft brewers contribute to neighborhood churches.

Integral to the re-referral: the applicant missed three churches in the so-called “liquor survey” within the 1,500-foot radius of the church.

Two of the previous yes votes, Councilmen Jim Love and Matt Schellenberg, were absent. With a five-person panel, including two opponents of the bill last time the committee saw it, one flipped vote could change the results.

A packed room, full of the kind of people who don’t normally haunt council chambers looking to be made famous during public comment, tried its damnedest to ensure that didn’t happen.

LUZ Chair Danny Becton discussed receiving 189 emails in favor of the project, and 11 in opposition, a ratio which seemed to match the mood of the audience in council chambers.

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When public hearing began, it was apparent opponents of the brewery had decided not to show.

Zach Miller, representing the business, noted sardonically that there were many establishments within the radius that sold beer.

“This [planned unit development] is [only] for 6th and Main Brewing Company,” Miller said.

Yolanda Copeland, a Springfield resident, moved to Springfield because it’s a “community of positive thinkers who want to move things forward.”

Copeland, and her neighbors, support the brewery as a “jobs-maker” in a “blighted neighborhood.”

The proponents spoke in favor of the planned craft brewery citing benefits including economic development, “bringing the Urban Core back to life,” creating an “anchor business,” improving walkability in an unsafe stretch of the neighborhood, increasing home values and the value of investment properties, curbing crime, catalyzing the revival of that blighted section of Main Street, improving entertainment in Springfield, offering the “kind of development that Springfield needs” without cost to taxpayers.

“This is an opportunity for revitalization, so why not take it?,” said one of many speakers in favor of the proposed microbrewery.

One speaker noted new churches have popped up in Springfield this year, with one locating 100 feet from a pre-existing bar.

Citing Martin Luther’s “95 Theses,” the speaker noted that for the zoning principle to work, churches would have to be forbidden from opening near bars.

Another speaker extolled the benefits of gentrification, ranging from the popular annual Porchfest festival to running the drug dealers out of the neighborhood.

After an hour, and one speaker expressing frustration with Gaffney for not having a town hall meeting, the councilman said “y’all are teaching me tonight” and thanked “District 7 for coming down to spend time” with him.

The proponents were new residents and lifers, scenesters and oldsters, renters and property owners.

All were animated by a cohesive vision: supporting dynamic, meaningful development, at the expense of the demagogues of the storefront pulpits and the politicians who function as their puppets.

They spoke of community. Of shared values.

Two opponents of the bill spoke up.

A deacon at the Westside Church of Christ, who has property on 8th Street, spoke of being “in the business of saving souls and keeping souls saved.”

His church feeds the hungry on the weekends, he said, and a brewery is a “moral problem” and “the better way is the Christian way.”

The other opponent, Pastor Ted Corley, likewise does not live in Springfield.

But that didn’t stop him from objecting to the proposed development either, pointing out that one church in the vicinity of the brewery, “in the line of sight,” was not mentioned as an impacted church.

“Churches provide the moral fabric of the community, and they deserve to be protected,” he said.

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Public comment wrapped at 8, and the committee began its deliberation.

Then a wrinkle: a parliamentary hiccup regarding the substitute version of the bill.

Committee members were advised to decide whether or not the substitute version of the bill merited re-noticing.

“It’s something you have to consider as a body,” said Susan Grandin of Jacksonville’s office of general counsel.

An extended discussion of what the bill said, helmed by Grandin and the lobbyist in favor of the bill, commenced.

“It’s what’s been missed that brought this back to committee,” noted Chairman Becton, who claimed that various storefront churches that had been missed potentially “invalidated” the committee decision a fortnight prior.

Bill Killingsworth of the planning department noted that, if a new church were to be “built” in the area of the brewery, it would not invalidate the decision of the committee to authorize the microbrewery.

There were still objections.

Councilman Doyle Carter, for one, didn’t “understand why we can’t find all the churches in the area and do it the way it’s always been done.”

Councilman Al Ferraro summed it up, saying “this substitute is just to make sure these business owners don’t face a ‘gotcha’.”

Then, Councilman Gaffney amended the bill, to limit outside sales, including patio service, on Wednesday and Sunday. The amendment passed.

“Two weeks ago,” Gaffney said, “I voted against this.”

This time, Gaffney changed his vote … sort of like he did in the Council VP race earlier this year … sort of like his brother did in the 2012 HRO vote.

“I hope as we move forward,” Gaffney added, “we have an understanding of what the churches need.”

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Notable: none of the people who came out in support of the microbrewery were members of those churches.

They were drawn to Springfield, apparently, for reasons beyond what church was opening up in a closed-down retail store.

They spoke of transforming the neighborhood.

They weren’t seeking a storefront preacher to affirm their lives’ purpose.

The Springfield they seek to build is one more sustainable, with more of a developed sense of being a destination.

More like the other Urban Core neighborhoods that went from blight zones to hot properties within the last quarter-century, gentrified after the creative class moved into the neighborhoods and made them places investment capital felt comfortable in.

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This measure will be considered by the full council Tuesday.

A question to consider: will opponents turn out in force on that occasion?

Another worth considering: will ex parte conversations change any minds over the next six days?

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at AG@FloridaPolitics.com

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