Overlay district allows alcohol sales adjacent to church

A DeKalb County business owner says Lemon Drop Bar and Grill is operating illegally but county  officials say it is not.

Charles McCorkle describes himself as a “very persistent” man, which is why he said he’s not giving up until something is done about a business selling alcohol that he says is too close to a church.

McCorkle, owner of GB Event Facility off Wesley Chapel Road in Decatur, said the Lemon Drop Bar and Grill located next to his property, is selling alcohol illegally and the county shouldn’t allow it based on its ordinances. However a county spokesman said that’s not the whole story.

According to county code, a business cannot receive a license to sell alcohol if it is within 200 yards of a church.  Lemon Drop is 65 yards away from Agape Christian Family Church and 135 yards away from the New Life and Faith church according to an alcoholic beverage license survey completed by Boundary Zone Inc. in May 2016.

McCorkle is also the lead pastor at GB Ministries. He said he has no vendetta against Lemon Drop’s owner or the county, but wants the county to follow its rules.

“I am a minister of the gospel. My residence happens to be [close to Lemon Drop] as well. I care about my community and I care about what takes place there,” McCorkle said. “The restaurant that is located within that Economy Inn hotel is a blight on the community and it has been for years.”

McCorkle said the establishment is more of a “club atmosphere” than a restaurant. In 2015 Lemon Drop’s owner applied for a special land use permit to be zoned as a “late night establishment.” That application was denied.

McCorkle said he made several attempts to contact the county and address Lemon Drop’s license. In an email sent to McCorkle from the county’s planning director Andrew Baker, Baker wrote, “Although staff was instructed not to issue the alcohol license for Lemon Drop by the zoning administrator, the license was issued on Friday, December 23, 2016. I continue to work with the law department to render a final decision as it relates to the license.”

However, a county official said that Lemon Drop is not in violation of any county code. According to county spokesperson Andrew Cauthen, the restaurant is located in an overlay district, which allows Lemon Drop to sell alcohol despite the county’s code restrictions on selling alcohol too close to a church.

“Lemon Drop is in an overlay district so, for example, one of the concerns was about the church restrictions, but in an overlay district those restrictions are not applicable,” Cauthen said. “A community can get together and say they want special zoning. A lot of the times it’s to attract business.”

McCorkle said, based on county code, that an overlay district does not supersede the county’s original code.

Cauthen said McCorkle’s assertion is incorrect.

“He’s not reading the entire code. He’s stopping at one section and not reading the entire thing,” Cauthen said.

According to section 4-101.1-H-2 of the county’s code of ordinances, the distance restriction does not apply to a restaurant if it is within an overlay district.

A zoning board of appeals upheld the county’s ruling to allow Lemon Drop to sell alcohol.

Myrio Lemons, owner of Lemon Drop, said he enjoys doing business in DeKalb county and wants to be a good neighbor.

“I have been unfairly targeted by my neighbor, which is Charles [McCorkle]. He told lies to the county to get them to dig a little bit deeper into my background and into my establishment and he lied to my landlord, which caused some friction,” Lemons said. “It’s frustrating. I’m coming into the community and trying to provide employment for people.”

Lemons said the area was riddled with drugs and prostitution before Lemon Drop. Lemons, who wrote a book From Prison to the Penthouse: 12 Steps to a Successful Life After Prison, said he wants to be a positive example in the community.

“I was a young kid and went to prison in 1995 and wrote about it and the obstacles I had to go through being a convicted felon,” Lemons said. “I overcame and became a corporate engineer in corporate America. I turned my life around and I want people to see what I did so I can be a role model and a mentor.”

McCorkle said he plans to continue to dispute the county’s ruling.

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