June 16, 2011

Early voting on northern Hatteras mixed drink referendum begins June 23


By IRENE NOLAN


One-stop absentee voting on a liquor-by-the drink referendum in the northern Hatteras Island villages will begin on Thursday, June 23.

Voters in Kinnakeet Township, which includes the villages of Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, and Avon, will go to the polls on Tuesday, July 12, to decide whether they want to allow mixed drinks to be served in restaurants, which can currently serve only beer and wine.

Before July 12, registered voters in the villages can cast an absentee – or early – ballot at the Dare County Board of Elections office, 954 Marshall C. Collins Dr. in Manteo.

The one-stop, absentee balloting is available from Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m., beginning on June 23 and continuing through July 7.  On Saturday, July 8, the Board of Elections office will be open from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Registration for village residents who want to vote in the referendum will also be available at these times.

The northern Hatteras villages are now the only towns or villages on the Outer Banks that cannot serve mixed drinks.

Ocracoke has had liquor by the drink for four years.  The southern Hatteras villages of Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras voted to allow mixed drinks last December, and Manteo, the last holdout among the county’s incorporated towns, voted to allow mixed drinks on June 7 – by a margin of 61.5 for and 38.4 against.

A vote in November of 2007on all of Hatteras Island was defeated.  Organizers of that effort waited the required three years and got the question back on the ballot after a petition drive last summer.

Last year, the organizers included only Hatteras Township – the southern villages – in the referendum, since the 2007 vote was very close in Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras and it was more soundly defeated in the northern villages.

Hatteras Township approved liquor by the drink by a margin of 63 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed, and many restaurants in the southern villages began serving mixed drinks late last winter.

The northern Hatteras villages got another petition drive underway this winter, so they too could serve mixed drinks.

In early May, the organizers turned in a petition signed by the required 25 percent of the registered voters in Kinnakeet Township, and the county The Board of Elections set the vote for July 12.

Fred Sawyer, who owns The Froggy Dog restaurant in Avon with his wife, Denise, doesn’t want to see the northern Hatteras villages become the only place that residents and visitors can’t buy a mixed drink.

“This can only help the community,” Sawyer said, adding that tourists expect to be able to order a cocktail.

“I’ve had more and more people leave when they find out we don’t serve liquor,” Sawyer said. “It happens every night.”

All of the Hatteras restaurant businesses should be able to operate on a ‘level playing field,” he said.

Right now in Avon, he said, it’s a “sit back and wait” attitude.

“We really will have to get the people out to vote,” Sawyer adding.  And he knows that can be a problem in the middle of the busy tourist season.

“I am afraid that some people just have an assumption that it will pass without their votes,” he said.

“All that we can hope for is that the people who signed the petition will vote,” said Jomie Price of Mack Daddy’s restaurant in Avon.  She added that she isn’t hearing a lot of discussion about the referendum – for or against.

The main opposition to serving liquor by the drink has come from churches.

Rev. Bryan Gray, pastor of the Avon Worship Center, was part of the church-based community that opposed the island-wide referendum in 2007 and the vote in December in the southern villages.

“Vote No” signs lined Highway 12 in 2007.  The signs were absent in December but there was a mailing the week before the referendum opposing it.

Earlier this week, Gray said that he knew of no plans at this time to actively oppose the July 12 referendum.

“All that we know,” he said, “is that everyone will have a vote.

He said he still opposes mixed drinks because they detract from the culture of Hatteras Island as a family vacation spot.

Rev. Roger Dill, pastor of St. John's United Methodist Church in Avon, said:

"Regarding the local referendum soon to be before the residents of the northern section of Hatteras Island: Alcohol by the drink is easy to oppose culturally (traditional thinking on the island). Alcohol abuse is closely linked to abusive behavior which disrupts families, is a factor in many accidents (vehicle or otherwise), and leads to unproductive life styles to include other drug use. However, passing or defeating this referendum will not affect these conditions which already exist on the island. Emotional
tunnel vision aside--the referendum is a moot point."

If the referendum fails again, there cannot be another vote for three more years.

Fred Sawyer isn’t taking any chances.

He has “permits in hand” to build two tennis courts, which would qualify the Froggy Dog as a sports club. According to state law, establishments that qualify as sports club can get a license to sell liquor by the drink.

That’s what Ron Lemasters, owner of Down Under Restaurant in Rodanthe, did earlier this year.  He built two tennis courts and got an ABC permit to sell mixed drinks.

Establishments can qualify as a sports club by adding two or more tennis courts or an 18-hole golf course or both.

An 18-hole golf course if about out of the question for Hatteras Island restaurant owners, but two tennis courts is feasible in some cases.

Sawyer says he hopes the referendum passes and that he doesn’t have to go the sports club route.

“It would be fairer,” he said if all restaurants operated on that “level playing field.”

The polls will be open from 6:30 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. on July 12.  Anyone with questions can contact the Dare County Elections Office at 252-475-6530 or 252-475-5631.



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