What's the difference between walking into a corner store and buying a six-pack of beer and pulling up to a drive-thru window to purchase the same? Erath County voters gave the green light to the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption in November 2008, but actions by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) and the lack of support of the full city council put the brakes on drive-thru convenience.
While more than 66 percent of voters backed "beer to go " more than two years ago, a debate as to how and where adults can purchase the product is still brewing.
At Tuesday's city council meeting, a public hearing was held to consider the addition of a zoning classification for a "Convenience/Grocery Store (with drive-thru)" in the City of Stephenville Zoning Ordinance.
While the majority, including council members Malcolm Cross, Don Zelman, Alan Nash, Martha Taylor and Mayor Nancy Hunter voted in favor of the amendment, it was not enough to effect the change.
Betty Chew, director of community development, said the issue required a super majority - seven affirmative - vote since the P&Z voted against a proposal to allow drive-thru service for convenience or grocery stores in any zoning district.
A representative of Jay and Jamie Anthony who would like to open a "super convenience store" on U.S. Highway 377, near FM 914 (Alexander Road), spoke of the Anthony's proposed business plan. She said the concept is a full-line grocery and convenience store, without fuel pumps but including an extended food service menu.
The representative said while discussions by P&Z on the drive-thru issue focused on the fact that such businesses would sell beer and wine through the drive-thru, the store would offer an "actual convenience" to parents with small children, the elderly and disabled to pick up items like milk and cat food without leaving their cars.
"We are seeking zoning to sell legal products in a legal manner," she said.
The representative reported that the Texas Department of Transportation has been on the site of the proposed business, located across the street from the Nurture 'n' Nature Childcare Center, and had approved the ingress and egress for the business. She also said the Anthonys would not take the concept outside of the city limits, like a typical beer barn due to the fact that they are not looking to establish such a facility.
Meanwhile, Dwain Bruner, business owner and STEDCO (Stephenville Economic Development Foundation, Inc.) board member, urged the council to support the Anthonys and economic growth. Bruner asked the council to seize the opportunity to help, not hinder the business.
"We think having this unique business in Stephenville will be very advantageous to the city," he said.
But comments also came from other citizens who asked the council to forgo the addition of the zoning change.
John Edwards, co-owner of the childcare center, said the proximity of Anthony's proposed convenience store to the existing business was a threat to the children's safety due to beer sales. Edwards asked if the council was going to choose convenience over kids.
The topic drew an array of comments from the council members who supported the zoning amendment and others who stood against it.
Cross said he does not support the city interfering with private business.
Zelman said he was having a problem seeing the difference in driving to a convenience store and walking into the establishment to buy a beer and driving thru.
"It sounds like an excellent business and they have obviously done their homework," Taylor said. "I am flattered by their desire to be here."
Hunter added to the discussion by saying although the business concept was not common in Texas, eastern states have been home to drive thru grocers for some time. She said when she lived in Florida and had two children in car seats, the stores offered an option in picking up a few items without the need to tote her kids in and out of a store.
"The convenience was invaluable," Hunter said, also asking how the idea was any different than taking beer or wine home in an automobile from any other store.
Nash pointed out that the lot in question was already qualified by its current zoning to operate as a convenience store, and he said he was concerned about the city not allowing such businesses to have a drive-thru. While the current zoning does not explicitly allow for a drive-thru, Nash said pharmacies fell under the same classification and were allowed to serve motorists. Nash said the zoning classification did not specify if the city allows or disallows the service.
"I am concerned about the interpretation," Nash said.
Speaking from the other side of the debate, Russ McDanel said a classification that would welcome beer barns to the city was not conducive with his vision of Stephenville and raising families.
Within the city of Stephenville, there are at least two convenience stores - Taylor at Lingleville Road and State Highway 180 and Shell at U.S. Highway 377 and Graham Street - that currently have drive-thru windows. But neither business is currently utilizing them.
Chew said Thursday that the businesses at some point "punched a window out of an existing wall" and did not obtain a construction permit from the city to do so. She said those business owners have been informed that zoning does not allow for their stores to have drive-thru service and have since shuttered the additions.