Let beer rule be

If the good people of Old Lyme would just as soon not have alcohol sold near their schools and churches, we see no pressing need to amend the zoning rules that now prohibit it.

Regulations in the quiet, affluent town prohibit stores within a 200-foot radius of a school or house of worship from selling alcohol. It is a common zoning rule in these parts, albeit a somewhat puritanical one. The purpose of zoning regulations is to encourage sensible development. One can make a case, at least, for providing some separation between a store offering the earthly pleasures of drink and a place dedicated to spiritual pursuits.

A convenience store owner, whose establishment happens to be across the street from a church and within the prohibited radius, seeks an exception for the sale of beer, in a commercial zone, at a grocery with the necessary state permits. Still prohibited would be the sale of other alcoholic beverages, while the school distance requirements would remain the same.

Would chaos ensue if the Zoning Commission agreed to carve out this small exception to the zoning rule? Would churchgoers have to maneuver around men sipping recently purchased, paper-wrapped beer bottles? Not likely. This amendment alone would probably change little.

Yet that does not suggest a compelling reason for amending the rule. As the public hearing opened Monday, there was no onslaught of townspeople complaining of the hardship of not being able to purchase a six-pack of beer next door after the church service.

Those who did speak, with the exception of the applicant's representative, urged the zoning agency to leave things as they are. They do not want to invite more such zonng requests. Some contend the rule change would send the wrong message. And speakers question the need.

Conservative zoning rules are hardly out of character for this shoreline community, which also bans drive-through restaurants, as it seeks to "preserve the rural character of the town."

The hearing on the proposed zone change continues Feb. 10, but at this point no compelling case exists for changing the restriction.


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