City council votes to allow pub bars in Elizabethton

Published 8:02 pm Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Elizabethton City Council voted 5-1 to amend city ordinances to allow the operation of pub bars inside city limits Thursday night at City Hall.

Councilmen Mike Simerly, Richard Barker, Wes Fraizer, Jeff Treadway, and Mayor Curt Alexander voted yes for the amendment while Mayor Pro-tem Bill Carter voted no. Councilman Kim Birchfield was not present.

Michael Howell and his wife, Cheri Tinney, were in attendance during Thursday’s meeting, and the couple had a lot riding on the council’s vote.

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The Elizabethton couple is in the works of opening Riverside Taphouse, which could be the first pub bar to begin operation in the Elizabethton.

Since the ordinance change passed its first vote in September, the couple have been waiting to hear if the allowance of pub bars would pass a second reading by the council, and Thursday relief swept over their faces as the councilmen voted yes.

“We are really excited,” said Howell. “We are very thankful for the support of the council and the community. We had a lot of people who spoke on our behalf tonight and were very enthusiastic to speak in favor of our endeavor.”

The couple is eyeing a March opening for their business which will be located at the corner of E Elk Avenue and N. Riverside Drive in downtown Elizabethton.

For those wondering, pub bars are businesses that serve fermented beverages such as beer, wine, and ciders, while not serving food that is prepared at the business. Pub bars also do not serve other alcoholic beverages such as liquor.

Before the council voted on the ordinance change, members of the public got to sound off on the topic during a public hearing. As numerous people got up to speak, the hearing lasted roughly an hour. Out of those who spoke 12 were against allowing pub bars while six were in favor.

The arguments of those against pub bars varied from religious to worries of rowdiness and violence they said can be linked to the consumption of alcohol.

One of those who spoke against was John Hayes from Elizabethton.

“I realize that you are faced with a tough decision,” said Hayes to the council. “I would ask that you err in the favor of the community.

“. . . I have had two sons that have had alcohol issues,” said Hayes.
“. . . I bet that there is not a person up here or sitting behind me tonight that your life hasn’t been touched and affected by alcohol or drugs in some way.”

Hayes, who drives a school bus for the city school system, went on to say that he sees many children in less than favorable conditions and that he believes alcohol can play a part in some of those situations.

“You see, alcohol doesn’t just affect the person that is doing the drinking,” continued Hayes. “I have myself bailed a son out of jail that used money on alcohol that should have been used for the power bill or grocery bill.”

On the side of those in favor pub bars, Elizabethton’s Donica Krebs got up to speak. Krebs, who is a co-founder of the Elizabethton Farmers’ Market along with Tinney, runs a local bed and breakfast at Elysium Farm, which Krebs and her husband operate. Krebs said that 250-plus individuals have stayed at the bed and breakfast and that she and her husband have conducted a survey of those who have stayed. She said that 80 percent of the 250-plus people said they opted for Johnson City when looking for restaurants and places that served craft beers. She also said that they spent on average $75 a day in Johnson City.

Krebs’ comments were in line with many that spoke up in favor of pub bars, claiming that the businesses could draw in more tourism and visitors that go elsewhere to places like Johnson City.

Howell and Tinney also presented the council with a petition that featured 500 signatures in favor of pub bars operating in Elizabethton.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, the council voted to re-elect Curt Alexander as City Mayor.

During the nomination process, Barker nominated Carter who then declined the nomination. Carter then went on to nominate Alexander who was voted in unanimously.

Carter was re-elected as Mayor Pro-tem.