Beer sales near church don't have a prayer in Old Lyme

Old Lyme - The Zoning Commission unanimously voted Monday to uphold a town regulation that prohibits beer sales near a house of worship.

Local zoning regulations ban all alcohol sales within 200 feet of a religious institution. But a convenience store owner near Sound View Beach had sought to ease the restriction, so stores like his located near churches could sell beer only and no other types of alcohol - as long as they have a permit.

Citing the public's opinion on the matter, the commission denied Asif Choudhry's request on Monday. Several residents objected to changing the requirement at a public hearing continued from last month.

Some residents took issue with making alcohol more available in town, while two business owners, including Choudhry, said changing the regulation would be good for business.

Resident Glenn Bair said he had concerns as a parent with increasing access to alcohol. He was also worried about the potential for drunken-driving accidents near the beach.

At the opening of the public hearing last month, several residents had also said revising the law could raise the number of liquor establishments in the town, which they said could lead to public health and safety issues.

On Monday, Choudhry, the owner of the Best Way convenience store and gas station at 281 Shore Road, said he has spent a lot of resources to maintain his business for more than a decade. The store stands across the street from The Shoreline Church at 287 Shore Road.

"I did everything possible to sustain the business," said Choudhry.

He said he had listed his business for sale, but wanted to seek a beer license to increase his offerings and stay in business.

He spoke about the prevalence of beer elsewhere and also said that he wouldn't be able to sell to underage children by law.

Saying he was speaking up for all the businesses in Sound View, he spoke about the challenges of running a business in the seasonal area.

He also mentioned that nobody from the church opposed the amendment.

Clinton Brown of DiCesare-Bentley Engineers, speaking on behalf of Choudhry, also handed a petition to the commission in support of the amendment change with 80 signatures.

In their vote, commission members said they had heard the public's opinion — more so than usual — on the issue. Their reasons also included preserving the rural character of the town — an objective of the town's zoning regulations — and finding no compelling reason to change the regulation.

Commissioner John Johnson also echoed some of the residents' concerns in his comments.

"I don't think we need to make alcohol any more available to kids than it already is," he said.


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