Restaurant owner asks city council to allow mixed drink sales on Sunday

Alcohol sales, an appeal to improve morals in the community, and a promotion at the City Police Department highlighted the agenda of the Okeechobee City Council when they met Tuesday, Jan. 17, at city hall.

Anita Nunez, new owner of Parrott Island Grill on South Parrott Avenue, asked the city to relax alcohol prohibitions on Sunday that allow beer and wine but prevent sale of other alcoholic beverages.

Ms. Nunez said everyone can drive one mile and purchase liquor on Sunday.  She said restaurant owners are hindered on Sunday by not being allowed to sell a mixed drink or a shot.

“There are grown adults and they want a drink with their meal. I don’t think it’s fair to us, because we are at a disadvantage. We just are asking for fairness.”

Ms. Nunez requested the sale of alcohol on Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m. Monday.

Councilman Noel Chandler said the city should keep things as they are. He said people know ahead of time and can always purchase alcohol during the week for use on Sunday.

“I’d like to leave it as it is,” he said.

Councilman Monica Clark said she researched all the area counties on alcohol regulations. She said an extended hours permit can be offered to individual businesses and the city ordinance would not have to be changed.

“How close these restaurants are to churches should be a consideration and whether it is near a residential area. It can be really loud in residential areas if they are close by,” she said.

Councilman Gary Ritter said his job is to make businesses as successful as possible.

“We should have some consistency with the county,” he said. “A person shouldn’t have to go outside the city on a Sunday if they would like a mixed drink or something like that.”

He noted West Palm Beach has full-service restaurants that are busting with business on Sunday.

“I would welcome a change in the ordinance for our restaurants, for our establishments to be able to sell liquor and not just beer and wine on Sundays,” he added.

Councilman Mike O’Connor said he would not be opposed to a change in the city ordinance.

Mayor Watford said he expects a lot of public comments when the alcohol ordinance is discussed.

The county allows liquor sales on Sunday from 1 p.m. to Monday at 2 am.

Realtor Julia Parker said she knows several restaurants have decided to locate in the county because of the alcohol restrictions in the city.

“I would hope you promote this for prosperity of the city,” she said. “There are dead buildings in the city with nothing being done.”

The council directed Attorney John Cook to develop a proposed ordinance to address alcohol sales on Sunday.

In other business, Blair Kuhlewind of Fifth Street Pharmacy thanked the Okeechobee City Police Department (OCPD) for the work done Dec. 20 after an armed robbery of the business. He called it a harrowing sobering experience that he would wish on no one.

“When your employees are white with fear it gets your attention,” he said.

Mr. Kuhlewind said the grace of God prevented a very ugly incident that night. He thanked OCPD Officer Kelly Margerum for the arrest of the suspect at a local motel.

Mr. Kuhlewind spoke about the growing crime problem and the drug problem in Okeechobee.

“The problems are all around us and they are here in Okeechobee,” he said. “What happened to us at the pharmacy made it all the more real.”

He said moral decline and the lack of moral training and lack of virtue are the reason for the crime problem.

“Our communities are beginning to rot from within,” he said.

He said more police, more laws and better schools won’t solve the problem.

“If laws could fix things we would be in great shape and getting better all the time,” he said.

He said promotion of good behavior and morals is the only solution. He said immorality is more the norm than good behavior today.

He suggested the city put out billboards with positive messages that motorists can view.

“Every civilization has gone to the dirt because of moral decline. If we don’t do something about that, so are we. I’m not doomsday, I just see it for what it is,” he added.

Mayor Watford said several agencies are working on the drug and other problems but the community as a whole needs to work harder on these problems.

Jennifer Tewksbury of the Okeechobee Economic Council thanked city staff for beautification of the downtown area and the addition of public comment to the agenda.

In other actions the council set a final public hearing date for Tuesday, Feb. 7, to consider an ordinance that would rezone 8/10ths of an acre requested by G-4 Land & Cattle Company for 701, 703 and 709 North Parrott Avenue. The zoning would change from industrial to commercial heavy.

The property is currently vacant. It is the old pure oil bulk plant site. The plan is to sell outdoor sheds on the property.

The council approved the purchase of one 2017 Dodge Charger from Auto Nation for $21,099 and equipment from Dana Safety Supply that totals $2,142 for the City Police Department.

The council approved a grant agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for the Centennial Park. The FDEP grant is 50-50. They will provide $183,630 and the project estimated cost is $367,260. The funds will go toward water quality improvement in the park. The city also received a $175,000 grant from the South Florida Water Management District. The city will spend $75,000. This project is designed to reduce storm water pollutants entering Taylor Creek.
Also at the city meeting, OCPD Sergeant Justin Bernst was promoted to the rank of lieutenant. He joined the police department in 2004. Lt. Bernst grew up in Okeechobee and graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1999. He also earned an AA degree at Indian River State College. Lt. Bernst is also the department’s firearms training officer, taser training officer and is the agency’s liaison with the Florida Department of Transportation.
Lt. Bernst also was able to write grants to help the city receive $60,000.
Lt. Bernst said his leadership philosophy has always been a simple but effective one.

“I try my best to lead by example and hold myself to the same high standards that I hold my officers to. I firmly believe that an effective leader does so from the front.” said Lt. Bernst.

He told the council he appreciated the confidence they have shown in him.
“I thank the council for the respect and trust they give us, and the trust you have given to Chief (Robert) Peterson,” he added.

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