Waynesville VFW post reopens following alcohol, gambling charges

fr vfwchargesFollowing a nine-month undercover investigation, six people were charged with conducting illegal activities, including selling moonshine and gambling, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Waynesville.

After 65 years, pool is back on the table for bars in Franklin

fr poolfranklinPool sharks rejoice. The town of Franklin has lifted an antiquated law that banned pool tables from being on the same premises as booze, or booze from being on the same premises as pool tables.

WCU opens up the door for wine and beer sales at performance venue

People attending productions at Western Carolina University’s John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center may soon have the chance to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer before a show or during intermission.

WCU’s board of trustees Friday unanimously approved a policy change allowing for the sale of beer and wine at the performance venue.

Spirit of the Season: What liquor-buying trends say about a town

fr abcwaynesvilleFor liquor stores in Western North Carolina, the combination of Christmas and the New Year makes for the busiest time of the year. But with 1,800 different types of products to choose from — from the old standbys like Jim Beam to the novelty high-end liquors gift wrapped and paired with tumblers — selecting the right booze to stock their limited shelf space can be a science in itself.

New college landscape greets returning WCU students

fr alcoholIt’s been more than three months since voters in Jackson County approved a countywide alcohol initiative. Yet, except for a few telltale signs, a look around Cullowhee on the doorstep of Western Carolina University wouldn’t lead anyone to believe that much has changed at all.

Sylva loses its corner on the college bar market

Despite rumors to the contrary, Sylva’s bars are not abandoning the town for the student-laden pastures of Cullowhee.

Area residents have heard whispers that the Bone Shack and O’Malley’s Pub and Grill — two bars that count college students among their base of patrons — will close their doors in Sylva and move their operations to Cullowhee.

Fallout from Jackson alcohol vote isn’t over yet

fr jaxalcoholWhen Jason Cutler moved to Jackson County from Michigan eight months ago, he was shocked to discover he couldn’t buy beer or wine outside of Sylva’s town limits.

Sylva, Jackson eye resolution to new ABC operations

After a month of controversy surrounding the granting of alcohol permits, Sylva and Jackson County leaders have made it their goal to work amicably together and compromise when discussing how the county will handle its ABC operations in the future.

“We really want to work with them (Sylva). We don’t want it to be an adversarial thing,” said Jack Debnam, chair to the Board of Commissioners.

Alcohol sales in Cullowhee off to slow start due to Jackson sheriff hang ups

Western Carolina University is remaining mostly neutral on the topic of alcohol coming to Cullowhee, at least officially.

“The campus has had alcohol on it for many, many, many years, and I don’t see that changing,” said Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student development. “It doesn’t really make it much better or worse.”

Although the approval of countywide alcohol sales will bring booze to WCU’s doorstep, the vote does not necessarily translate to more underage drinking and other alcohol-related crimes, stated university officials.

“Students already have access to alcohol sold in stores and restaurants just a few miles from campus. The availability of alcohol closer to campus will certainly be more convenient for many students, but we don’t know how or if that will change their behavior,” said WCU Chancellor David Belcher in a statement.

Most other college campuses in the country have stores and bars selling alcohol all around them, yet drinking is not substantially different among students at WCU where it is less accessible, according to a study by the Healthy Campus initiative on alcohol and drug use among students in 2007.

“Alcohol is a tremendous risk factor for our students as it is nationally,” Miller said.    

And, like many other colleges nationwide, WCU requires its freshmen to complete an alcohol education program and take tests featuring alcohol-related trivia. The hope is that students will make more informed decisions when considering whether and how much to drink.

“We want to make sure they have good information about the risks of inappropriate use of alcohol,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, we know for many, many of our students, alcohol is part of what they consider the college experience.”

The Division of Student Affairs also offers the “Party Smart” website initiative, which gives students access to advice and information about alcohol.

While WCU isn’t publicly jumping for joy over the arrival of alcohol in Cullowhee, former chancellor John Bardo had openly adopted a pro-alcohol stance in his final years.

Cullowhee lacks a vibrant college town and nightlife scene, and that in turn hurt the university’s ability to recruit and retain students, Bardo had said. Bardo had been looking for ways to incorporate Cullowhee as a town, giving it the ability to make alcohol sales legal.

 

Permits still pending

Four of the six businesses in Cullowhee that have expressed an interest in selling alcohol have hit a stumbling block after Sheriff Jimmy Ashe raised red flags over their locations — namely as being too close to WCU.

Ashe was designated by the county to render an official opinion on whether a particular establishment and its owner should be granted a permit from the state to serve alcohol.

Of the six establishments in Cullowhee that applied for permits, the sheriff offered a “thumbs down” assessment to four of the six for being too close to campus.

“With a 10,000 student population, this agency has already experienced a significant increase in underage drinking, alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related sex offenses at fraternities and even alcohol-related deaths … with my experience of 30 years in law enforcement, this would not be a suitable location for alcohol sales,” Ashe wrote in response to the permit application.

University administrators expressed their appreciation for the sheriff’s concern.

“I think we share concerns about making sure our students are safe and are good neighbors in Jackson County,” Miller said.

No matter what happens with the alcohol permits, however, students will still be expected to follow the same code of conduct as always.

“Regardless, WCU will continue to expect that our students are living up to their responsibilities and are good neighbors to Jackson County residents,” Belcher said in the statement. “We will be following the impact of countywide alcohol sales very closely this fall.”

In 2010, 245 students were referred to the university’s disciplinary board for alcohol-related violations. That is a nearly 100 percent increase from the number of violations reported in 2009 but only up 45 referrals when compared to 2008.

 

Ashe creates extra hurdle

The university has also done its part to vouch for area businesses that were deemed unsuitable for alcohol sales by Ashe.

“The university has been great,” said Jeannette Evans, owner of Mad Batter Bakery and Café in Cullowhee, who is facing delays after getting a negative assessment from Ashe on her permit application.

WCU’s General Counsel Mary Ann Lochner sent a brief letter to the state’s assistant director of ABC permits clarifying that Mad Batter, Rolling Stone Burrito and Bob’s Mini Mart — all of which have applied for alcohol permits — reside more than 50 feet from the entrance of the nearest building on the college’s campus. The letter refutes an assertion by Ashe that the businesses sit too close to the school.

Ashe filed reports stating that the three business are “located within 50 feet of educational institution properties in which 80 percent of the student population being potential customers are underage thus bringing on the problems of underage consumption and alcohol-related crimes involving persons underage.”

Despite her hard feelings about being denied a temporary permit for the time being, Evans said she does not feel like her business nor Cullowhee were singled out during the application process. The denial simply delayed the process, she said.

Evans traveled to Raleigh on Thursday to formally apply for a temporary permit with the state, which makes its own determination regardless of Ashe’s opinion. Evans called applying with the Sheriff’s office a “colossal waste of time.”

Ashe no longer holds thumbs-down power on temporary alcohol permits

Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe was stripped of his appointed role to render thumbs-up or thumbs-down assessments of businesses wanting to sell alcohol.

Jackson County commissioners, who had initially appointed Ashe to the role, voted this week to instead make County Manager Chuck Wooten the go-to local official in the permit process.

Ashe indicated in a written statement last week that he didn’t really want the responsibility anyway.

The vote Monday to relieve Ashe of the position was a 3-2, down party lines. The two Democratic commissioners voted to keep Ashe, also a Democrat, in the position.

The issue of revoking the job from Ashe was originally not scheduled for discussion at the meeting. However, complaints from the community prompted the board to add the topic at the last minute.

Commissioner Joe Cowan acted surprised when Chairman Jack Debnam asked for a motion to swap Ashe for Wooten as the county appointee regarding alcohol permit matters. Cowan asked to put the vote off for another couple of weeks.

“Could we possibly postpone this item until the next meeting to give us time to read these?” asked Cowan. “I just got these resolutions, and I have not had time to read them or study them.”

Cowan then made a motion to postpone the decision until the board’s next meeting. Commissioner Doug Cody retorted that the resolutions only take a moment to peruse.

“These resolutions are about one page in length. I mean, how long does it take to read them?” Cody said.

Cody, Debnam and Commissioner Charles Elders voted against delaying the matter, and the three then succeed in pushing through the resolutions. Both Cody and Debnam previously expressed a desire to oust Ashe as the county designee following complaints from business owners.

Commissioner Mark Jones sided with Cowan.

“On the quick read, I disagreed,” Jones said, adding that he felt there was no need for a change since all the applications were processed in a timely manner under Ashe.

Specifically, Ashe’s role was to render an opinion on whether the owner and location of an esablishment wanting to sell alcohol was appropriate. If Ashe approved, that business could get temporary permit to sell alcohol while it waits for the much longer process to get a permanent permit from the state ABC Commission.

In a statement written May 30, Ashe stated that processing the permit applications, which requires background checks, interviews with community members and a visit to each location, is time consuming, and a change in appointee would allow his office time to conduct other duties.

“It would be more beneficial to my office to allow the county commissioners to assume the responsibility as the designee for the local government opinion form,” Ashe wrote. The statement wasn’t specifically addressed to anyone but apparently had been sent to commissioners.

Wooten will now take on the responsibilities of the county designee, though he has the option of appointing his own designee. Wooten indicated that if the applications became overwhelming, he would consider naming Gerald Green, the county planner, to the position.

 

Who’s got it, who doesn’t

Almost a month ago, Jackson County voters approved the countywide sale of alcoholic beverages by nearly 60 percent. And soon after, business owners rushed to file their applications for alcohol permits.

One of the first stops in the paperwork trail is to secure the blessing of Sheriff Jimmy Ashe.

However, Ashe filed unfavorable opinions about six of the 12 businesses that have applied so far. Those businesses have since gone over Ashe’s head to temporary permits directly from the state.

Four of the six that got a thumbs down from Ashe were in Cullowhee. Ashe didn’t like their proximity to campus for fear it would encourage underage drinking. One in Cashiers was turned down because of the applicant’s criminal record.

The sheriff also turned down Catamount Travel Center convenience store on U.S. 441 just outside Cherokee, citing its proximity to Cherokee, which is dry. Ashe did not deem it fitting for a gas station just over the line in Jackson County to start hawking beer and wine on Cherokee’s doorstep, particularly when Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted a resounding “no” to the sale of alcoholic beverages in a ballot measure of  their own in April.

Despite Ashe’s opinion, the state ABC Commission rather promptly issued the gas station a permit to start selling.

“Sales have done real well,” said Jamie Winchester, whose family owns the travel center. “It’s been really good.”

Who has it so far:

In Cashiers, Cornucopia Gourmet, Cornucopia Cellars, Cashiers Farmers Market, Ingles grocery, Orchard Restaurant, and Cork and Barrel. In Cullowhee, The Package Store and Sazon Mexican Restaurant. In Tuckasegee, Caney Fork General Store. In Whittier, Catamount Travel Center.

Who’s still waiting:

Bob’s Mini Mart, Mad Batter, Rolling Stone Burrito and the Catamount Travel Center, all in Cullowhee.

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