Jim Clark didn’t expect significant opposition to his license to sell alcohol at his store in Ninilchik.
Clark, the owner of Echo Lake Meats in Soldotna and Ninilchik Trading on the Sterling Highway, applied in August for a liquor license to be transferred so he could begin selling packaged liquor. However, he ran into an obstacle: there are two churches and a school within 500 feet of the store, which goes against Kenai Peninsula Borough code.
He successfully obtained permission from the Ninilchik School and from St. Peter the Fisherman Methodist Church, but hit a wall with Calvary Baptist Church. Pastor Kit Pherson objected to the sale of alcohol in general, let alone in a store across the highway from the church.
Pherson said the church board, which met a week later, voted to oppose the liquor license because of their religious beliefs.
“We want to stand with our position on the word of God regarding alcohol,” Pherson said. “We encourage the borough to uphold their code. There are other places in town where people can get alcohol.”
The borough’s code is stricter than the Alaska state distance requirement, which is 200 feet. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has the authority to override the borough code if Clark had obtained all three letters. However, at the Sept. 1 assembly meeting, he was still shy one letter and several community members submitted objections to the license.
Bob Ferguson, a member of the Calvary Baptist Church and partial owner of the Inlet View Restaurant and Bar in Ninilchik, said both the church and community members objected to the licensing. Ninilchik already has a packaged liquor store — Twin River Liquors — and under Alaska law, only one permit of each type of liquor establishment is allowed per 1,500 people. Inlet Restaurant & Bar is a different type of license.
“I think that if the right criteria was met, it would be issued,” Ferguson said. “If the application was researched, we wouldn’t be here right now.”
LaMont Wolsey, the owner of Twin Rivers Liquor, also tried to move his liquor store to the highway, where it would be within 500 feet of the Calvary Baptist Church. He was denied because of an objection from the church. He owns 450 feet of frontage property on the highway and still wants to move his liquor store there.
“I was told by the borough staff that it wasn’t going to happen,” Wolsey said. “I would assume my next step would be to divide the property and still try to move my liquor store down to the highway.”
Assemblyman Brent Johnson, who chairs the Finance Committee, postponed the vote until Sept. 15, but multiple members of the assembly expressed concern about overriding the borough code. Assemblyman Stan Welles said Calvary Baptist Church’s objection was understandable, and several assembly members were unsure whether the Ninilchik principal had the authority to issue that letter without the school district’s approval.
“The borough code is pretty clear that we would have to have a letter of nonobjection from any church or school within 500 feet,” Johnson said.
Clark said he met with Pherson before applying for the license and obtained verbal permission but was unaware he had to have it in writing. When he asked for a letter of nonobjection, Pherson refused.
Clark said the Ninilchik Tribal Council supported his application and that, because of his initial conversation with the pastor, he didn’t expect this much opposition. Going forward, he said he is not sure what the next move will be. The construction to expand his store for the alcohol sales is halfway complete and he purchased the $1,500 license.
“If he had told me then that he would oppose any liquor store on that location, I would not have bought the license and our landlord would not have built the extension,” Clark said. “With the letters that you already have from the Methodist church and the school, we feel that in this case we have a majority.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.