May 4, 2011

Northern Hatteras villages will have a mixed drink referendum on July 12


By IRENE NOLAN


Voters in the northern Hatteras Island villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon will go to the polls on Tuesday, July 12, to decide whether they want mixed drinks in restaurants.

The organizers of a petition drive in those villages turned in their signatures to the Dare County Board of Elections last week.

On Monday, Melva Garrison, director of board, confirmed that her office had verified that there were a sufficient number of signatures on the petition to set a referendum.

Garrison said that 325 signatures of registered voters in the four villages were required, and that the organizers exceeded that number.

A referendum can be requested by a governing body, which, in this case, is the Dare County Board of Commissioners, or by the signatures of 25 percent of the voters in a township, in this case the four villages that comprise Kinnakeet Township.

Garrison said that a referendum must be scheduled no sooner than 60 and no more than 120 days after the petition is verified. The date is set by the Board of Elections, and Garrison worked with the petition organizers to choose the date. 

The organizers of the petition drive were mostly restaurant owners, though it was supported by other businesses in the northern villages.

“It’s been tough,” said Fred Sawyer, who owns the Froggy Dog restaurant in Avon with his wife, Denise.

Part of the problem, he said, was that the signers of the petition must be registered voters in the four villages.  However, with the petition located at restaurants and other businesses, other folks signed – visitors, residents who are not registered to vote, or residents of other villages.

Sawyer and other restaurant owners in the northern villages have been pushing hard to get the required signatures since a mixed drink referendum passed last December in the southern island villages of Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Currently, only beer and wine can be served in Avon, Rodanthe, Waves, and Salvo.

Many restaurants in the southern villages have been serving mixed drinks since February, and business has been brisk.

The northern village restaurateurs fear they will lose business to the southern villages, which now have eight restaurants serving mixed drinks.

“We will lose some business this year,” Sawyer said, noting that he has already had at least three tables of folks leave this spring when they were told they couldn’t order drinks.

“Our regular customers will keep coming, so this year will be okay,” he said, “but I’m worried about next year.”

The owners of one restaurant in Waves decided not to gamble on a referendum being set or passing.

Down Under restaurant is now classified as a sports bar, which, through a provision in state law, allows the restaurant to sell mixed drinks.

According to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control website a sports bar is defined as an “establishment substantially engaged in the business of providing an 18-hole golf course, two or more tennis courts, or both.”

It also states, “The sports club can either be open to the general public or to members and their guests. To qualify as a sports club, an establishment's gross receipts for club activities shall be greater than its gross receipts for alcoholic beverages. This provision does not prohibit a sports club from operating a restaurant. Receipts for food shall be included in with the club activity fee.”

This classification is different from a private club, which customers must join to purchase beverages.

There are currently three sports bars in Dare County.  They include the newest, Down Under, and Duck Woods Country Club and Pirate’s Cove Dockside Restaurant in Manteo.

The sports bar provision in the law was passed some years ago after it was requested by Pirate’s Cove, which is located in Manteo, a town that does not allow mixed drinks, although the town has another referendum scheduled in June.

Ron and Debbie LeMasters added two tennis courts to their restaurant property this winter and opened in mid-April.  The tennis courts are available for rental by the general public, Ron Lemasters said, and the business also rents balls and rackets.

However, customers do not have to play tennis to enjoy a dinner and a drink at the restaurant, which has also added a large deck for viewing the soundside sunsets.

Lemasters said business has been brisk, both on and off the tennis courts.

The last time there was a mixed drink referendum in the northern villages was in 2007.

That referendum was island-wide, and was defeated largely by voters in Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon.

In Avon, the vote was 133 against and 80 in favor.  In the tri-villages, 115 voted against and 74 were in favor.

The vote was much closer in the southern villages in 2007, and it was approved by Hatteras village voters.

Because of that close vote, organizers in the southern villages decided to go it alone in last December’s referendum, which passed with 63 percent of voters in favor and only 37 against.

It’s likely to be more difficult to pass this referendum in the northern villages, where some churches will probably actively try to defeat it.  The pastor of one church in Avon sent out literature last year, in violation of election laws, opposing the referendum in the southern villages.

On southern Hatteras Island, the restaurants with ABC permits for mixed drinks include:

  • Diamond Shoals, Pop’s Raw Bar, Rusty’s Surf and Turf, and Sandbar and Grille in Buxton.
  • Cap’n Rolo’s and Quarterdeck in Frisco.
  • Breakwater and Dinky’s in Hatteras village.



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