DADE CITY — One after another, members of the Faith Baptist Church came before the County Commission on Tuesday to object to Cobb Theatre's proposal to serve alcoholic beverages at its new $7-million multiplex in the Grove at Wesley Chapel mall.
But County Commissioner Ted Schrader didn't have a problem with it.
"I understand the church's concern, but this is not a convenience store," he said. "Alcohol will be consumed on the premises. There is a multitude of obstacles" between the church and cinema.
Other commissioners also signaled support for the movie theater, perhaps with limits on the time and type of alcohol that could be served. But they postponed a decision Tuesday, opting to give Cobb more time to work on a compromise with the church.
The county bans alcohol sales within 1,000 feet of churches, schools and public parks. Cobb needs a waiver because the cinema is 827 feet from Faith Baptist.
Commissioner Michael Cox said it was already clear the board was leaning Cobb's way, but agreed with Commissioner Jack Mariano's suggestion to give the theater more time to find common ground with the church.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri proposed excluding hard liquor and allowing only wine and beer to be served. Mariano suggested the cinema limit the time of alcohol service to avoid conflict with church activities. Cox backed both suggestions.
But it's unclear whether the church is open to any compromise.
Fourteen church members argued Cobb shouldn't be allowed to serve alcohol. Most raised fears of drunken drivers and concerns for the safety of children at the church's school.
"You've made these ordinances to protect us and that's why the 1,000 feet ordinance is there," said the Rev. Scott Naill, the church's pastor. "You have to have the law there to protect someone. I'm just concerned about people leaving the facility impaired."
Church members said its school has about 200 children between the ages of 3 and 17.
"I don't care what you put up as safeguards," said Paul Haulk. "Somebody always pushes it. Please abide by the law that you guys instituted."
Cobb's attorney, Louis Terminello, said cinema attendants would closely check theatergoers' ages. Alcohol would only be served in limited access balconies for adults.
Terminello said there's already an apartment complex, chain link fence, retention ponds and a large parking lot separating the theater from the church. He said Cobb won't serve drinks to patrons' seats after movies begin.
"It's not a bar, it's not a night club," he told commissioners. "Your own code provides for a waiver. It allows you to impose reasonable restrictions when we come back to you for a conditional permit."
At the suggestion of County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder, commissioners postponed a decision by combining the issue with a hearing on the cinema's alcohol license, expected in the next two to three months.
Chuin-Wei Yap can be reached at [email protected] or (813)909-4613.