By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
September 29, 2023
Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile! That seems to be the theme for alcohol proponents in the town of Elon. Having launched a social district in April, the town expanded it in August to include land owned by a church and more recently has announced plans to partner with a local brewery to create a “beer garden” on town property.
“We don’t really know why Elon’s town council is so enamored with outdoor sidewalk drinking, but it seems they just can’t get enough of it – in their town,” reported The Alamance News on Sept. 21.
House Bill 890, signed into law in September 2021, allows municipalities to carve out outdoor areas in which people may drink alcohol sold by permitted establishments. During specified time frames, open beverages can be carried outside within these so-called “social district” boundaries and inside of businesses that are participating in the district as long as they are in specially-branded cups. Within a little less than a year, close to 20 municipalities have created the districts, which must be registered with the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Others are considering them.
“The spread of these districts is concerning, and The Alamance News is right to question the town’s subsidizing of a beer garden,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “There are numerous drawbacks to these districts that many public servants fail to carefully consider because they are blinded by the promises of prosperity that proponents make. Public health and safety should always be the priority of state and local policy-makers.”
As was pointed out in The Alamance News, it seems less than ingenious to make alcohol consumption easier and more widespread in a college town, where roughly half of Elon University students are not of legal age to drink, Creech said. He said monitoring the age of individuals consuming alcohol in social districts can be challenging, potentially making it easier for underage individuals to consume alcohol, posing legal and health risks.
Nonetheless, the town apparently plans to rent a portion of a public park area to a Gibsonville brewery to sell its home brews. Plans include the town providing picnic tables, power, lighting, flowerpots and a porta-potty for starters and even more infrastructure if the enterprise is deemed a success.
“We wonder how ‘successful’ will be defined – and how much more that will cost Elon’s taxpayers,” wrote editors of The Alamance News.
Creech predicts that while social districts may initially generate revenue for businesses, over time they will result in increased economic costs related to alcohol-related accidents, law enforcement, healthcare, and public safety measures.
“Concentrated alcohol consumption in designated districts may lead to overcrowding, noise pollution, and disruptions to the peace and tranquility of residential areas, negatively impacting quality of life. Plus, policing and enforcing regulations puts added burdens on law enforcement agencies” Creech added. “Ultimately, alcohol poses significant public health and safety risks and is a progressive substance with potential long-term consequences.”
He said since the law allowing for the districts is just two years old, nobody really knows yet how it is affecting public health and safety.
“Assessing the impact of a policy change like social districts on alcohol use and abuse requires longitudinal studies and data collection over an extended period,” says Creech. “This much we can say, it’s alcohol, and the data characteristically has determined for decades now that the social costs of liberal attitudes toward alcohol always outweigh any revenue garnered.”