The North Carolina Senate on Wednesday passed a bill for the North Carolina House of Representatives that would spell out how local communities — such as downtown Winston-Salem — can designate social areas where alcoholic beverages can be carried and consumed outside.
A revamped version of House Act 211 was approved by 37 votes to 6 during what will be the Republican legislative leaders’ draft last week of the current phase of the 2022 session.
The bill was sent to the House of Representatives for approval of Senate changes to the bill. The legislation will go into effect immediately if HB211 becomes law.
What HB211 does is make clear where an individual might have an open vessel of fortified wine or spirit liquor in a specific social or consumption area.
“This should provide (for local governments) a roadmap for the successful design, implementation and management of the social areas they wish to establish,” said Representative Tim Moffett, R Henderson.
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“HB211 appears to be trying to clarify how regulations for social areas relate to ABC rules,” Aaron King, assistant city manager in Winston-Salem, said Wednesday.
“The city has discussed the idea of having several smaller geographic areas designated as social areas rather than one large area.”
These discussions have been brought up through August or September, King said, in part to review changes and clarifications that will be in the final version of HB211.
Local governments will have to submit maps of the social areas to the ABC committee, and they will have to define the social areas in a way that clearly indicates to customers where the boundaries of the social area are.
Unlicensed businesses will not be required to allow customers to bring open containers of alcoholic beverages to their premises. They will not be responsible for enforcing alcohol laws if they choose to do so.
“However, they are required to allow law enforcement officials access to areas of buildings that customers can access,” according to the legislature team report.
“Apart from HB211, the key issue for Winston-Salem is the potential impact of social areas on public safety,” King said.
“Our police shortage has been well documented, and the police department leadership has concerns about adding additional enforcement responsibilities when it already has a staff shortage,” King said.
In 2019, the General Assembly created a “Common Area Entertainment Permit” that can be issued to the owner of a multi-tenant establishment with at least two tenants holding ABC permits.
A common area is defined as comprising “parts of a building or structure and external areas that are jointly used by several companies on a property or within a planned development, whether such areas are under common ownership or are subject to cross easements for use by multiple companies”.
The permit allows customers of tenants with ABC permits to take alcoholic beverages sold in a designated container outside the tenants’ premises into a common area of the multi-tenant establishment. The common area is operated during specific days and hours determined by the owner of the multi-tenant establishment.
In 2021, the law was expanded to allow local governments to adopt ordinances to create social areas, which are defined as “a designated external area in which a person may consume alcoholic beverages sold by an authorized person.”
The local government entity determines the hours and days that the social area operates.
The designation of a social area allows ABC customers to be adjacent to the social area to take alcoholic beverages sold in a designated container outside the committee headquarters to the social area.
The town of Madison said Wednesday that it will organize a community district downtown on Friday.
Hours will be 5-11 PM on Thursdays and Fridays, noon until 11 PM on Saturdays and 1-8 PM on Sundays.
Madison officials cited a 2011 extension of state law as the impetus for the creation of the social district.
“After much study, our town leaders have been able to determine the economic impact that having a particular social area can have on our town,” Madison Township Manager Kevin Bogen said in a statement.
“Being the first social district in the county, local businesses in Madison and the downtown area now have a unique allure for our residents and visitors to enjoy.”
The boundaries of the social area are determined by signs, and all alcoholic beverages must be purchased and consumed within those boundaries.
Hell on Horsecreek, Southern Spirits, Gia’s Distillery, Wine Nox and Madison Cork Supply are participating in ABC’s licenses and will be able to sell and serve beverages at their respective venues for consumption throughout the Social District.
All alcoholic beverages must be served in clear plastic cups, no larger than 16 ounces that display the social neighborhood logo, the ABC license that served the beverage, and “Drink Responsibly – Be 21”
Alcoholic beverages purchased from one ABC pass are not permitted to be transported to another ABC premises.
“The implementation of the Social Neighborhood will make downtown Madison a more attractive place for people to visit, stay and shop,” said Bobby Webster, president of the Madison Merchants Guild.