Snellville barred from issuing Sunday liquor licenses

The flow of Sunday alcohol licenses has come to a stop in Snellville, at least for now.

A magistrate judge in the Gwinnett County Superior Court on Monday issued a temporary restraining order against the city, prohibiting officials from issuing additional licenses for the next 30 days.

The next hearing, in which the judge could decide whether to issue a permanent injunction, is set for Jan. 27.

"I'm very pleased that the court heard our position and granted an extraordinary relief in this temporary protective order," said attorney Rick Stepp, acting on behalf of eight residents.

The order, issued by Judge Mark A. Lewis, comes two weeks after city leaders opened the tap for Sunday liquor-by-the-drink sales in an effort to help struggling restaurants.

Seven restaurants already have obtained beer and wine licenses, and they began pouring two Sundays ago. The judge's order won't stop alcohol sales at those restaurants.

That in itself is a victory for the city, Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said.

"We won the first round," Oberholtzer said. "We're still serving."

Stepp had requested the temporary restraining order last week. In the 14-page complaint, Stepp argued the City Council acted unlawfully Dec. 14 when it amended its liquor laws by a council vote rather than referendum. If he prevails, he contends the licenses already issued would become "null and void."

City Attorney Mike Williams has said the Snellville City Council was on firm legal ground to make the decision without a referendum. And Oberholtzer notes that another referendum would cost $10,000 for a city already reeling from a $1.1 million budget shortfall.

"We feel like we're going to prevail because the law is on our side," Oberholtzer said. "But it's disappointing because it's going to cost taxpayers more money."

"Nothing goes smoothly in Snellville," he said.