Beer here? Not near Old Lyme houses of worship, say opponents

Old Lyme - Several residents spoke out Monday against a proposal that would allow stores near religious establishments in town to sell beer.

Town regulations currently prohibit stores located within a 200-foot radius of a school or house of worship from selling alcohol.

A proposal under review by the Zoning Commission would allow stores to sell beer even if they are within the 200 feet as long as they have a state grocery permit to sell it. The stores would not be allowed to sell other types of alcohol, and the school distance requirement would remain unchanged.

More than 20 residents attended a public hearing on Monday on a petitioner Asif Choudhry's proposal to amend the zoning regulations. Several residents were concerned the zoning change could open the doors to more stores wanting to sell alcohol in the community.

Mary Seidner, the director of the Lymes' Youth Services Bureau and coordinator of Community Action for Substance Free Youth, said the coalition has worked over the past nine years to decrease underage drinking through an extensive curriculum in the schools, outreach and training, and positively changing the environment.

"I urge you to take careful consideration before you change our environment to allow more alcohol outlets," she said. "There is plenty of data to support that alcohol outlet density is associated with a variety of public health and safety concerns."

Clinton Brown of DiCesare-Bentley Engineers, who spoke Monday on behalf of Choudhry, said amending the regulations is part of a process. An applicant would still need to apply to the commission for a permit for a specific location and prove to the state's Liquor Control Commission that the applicant is a "bona fide" grocery store.

"We think that the current regulations do not reflect certain situations where houses of worship are within a commercial district," said Brown.

Chairwoman Jane Cable reminded attendees that Monday's meeting was to consider the general zone change and not about a specific application.

When Brown approached the commission in October to discuss changing zoning laws, he indicated he would then seek a permit for 281 Shore Road, according to the minutes. The building there houses the Best Way convenience store and gas station on the corner of Swan Avenue near Sound View. The Shoreline Church stands across the avenue at 287 Shore Road.

Chris Buckley, a resident and board member of the Youth Services Bureau, said if one looks at the town's zoning regulations it's clear from the first sentence their purpose: "We're trying to preserve the rural character of the town of Old Lyme."

He questioned the logic of selling beer next to a church in a town that has many zoning restrictions to preserve its character - including a ban on drive-through fast food restaurants. He added that nearby towns of Waterford and East Lyme have buffers between churches and businesses that sell beer, and further urged the commission to consider how the zone change could affect other churches in town.

The public hearing is scheduled to continue at the next Zoning Commission meeting on Feb. 10.

k.drelich@theday.com

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