The Richland County Council is considering a motion to remove the buffer space between churches and places serving drinks

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In a 7-3 vote, the Richland County Council voted last week to remove a 600 foot buffer between churches and an establishment serving alcohol in certain zones, like strip malls.

Chairman Norman Jackson first brought up the issue after he said land owners complained to him over having to choose between the two when leasing out property.

"Churches are now locating in malls and it's causing a problem for the business owners who are losing their investment because they spend millions of dollars developing and designing a mall," said Jackson. "Then here a church comes and because a church is there, certain businesses can't locate there."

However, not everyone was on board with the decision. Those who opposed the motion, like Councilmen Seth Rose, say those owners know the law and should be the one responsible for the choices they make.

"To me when you're signing that lease to bring a church establishment in, you are aware or should be aware that that's going to impede your ability to then lease the space next to it to a bar," said Rose.

The new ordinance only pertains to businesses serving beer and wine, meaning bars serving liquor will still have to set up at least 500 feet from a church. Despite the opposition, Jackson says the motion is meant to be fair to both parties by allowing them to freely choose where to locate inside a strip mall.

"There's been compelling argument on both sides, but then you look at the reality and the practicality of it," said Jackson. "It was not designed for churches, but you have the right to assemble there if you choose."

The motion must pass three times before it takes effect. The next votes will be held on March 4th and 18th, where public hearing will be taken into account.

Though Rose says he believes the ordinance will go into effect, Jackson says it all depends on how the two hearings go.

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