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Drinks can flow at Wesley Chapel theater

DADE CITY — A new multiplex in Wesley Chapel can tap booze to serve moviegoers, despite a nearby church's protests.

The Pasco County Commission voted 5-0 Tuesday to waive a restriction in county code against alcohol sales within 1,000 feet of a church.

The ban was in Cobb Theatres' way because Faith Baptist Church stands 827 feet away — and church members refused to step aside from opposing liquor sales.

Besides warning of drunken drivers and children at risk, they said Faith Baptist followed the law when it built the church — and so should the company.

"We didn't fail to plan, but they did," said the Rev. John A. Mitten.

County commissioners, however, said the $7-million, 16-screen project at the Grove at Wesley Chapel mall near Interstate 75 and State Road 54 is well suited for Pasco. It would include Pasco's first premium auditoriums for people who could have cocktails in their leather seats as part of its "cinebistro loge."

Alcohol would be served only on the second floor, and people would have to show proper ID twice to get there.

"I look at it as more of an opportunity than something that's going to be bad," said Commission Chairman Ted Schrader, whose district includes the theater.

In fact, he said, it might open some jobs for young people, too.

Clarke Hobby, an attorney for Cobb, said a waiver fit perfectly.

An apartment complex and trees also buffer the 16-screen theater from the church. A drive between the multiplex and church is a half-mile, Hobby said.

Other businesses selling alcohol have been permitted despite the 1,000-foot restriction, which also protects schools and parks. That includes allowing beer and wine at Cinema Grill on U.S. 19 in 2005, despite a church's objection.

But mixing cocktails in an atmosphere that attracts children creates too big of a risk, church member Travis Haulk said, noting the exit to the church is near a route from the theater.

The decision came after an April delay by the board to allow time for compromise. It never came.

"I understand your teachings, and how you feel, but we represent all the people of Pasco — not just one segment," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said.

In other business, the board directed staffers to add more flexibility to protective, half-mile wide corridors where wildlife travel between publicly owned lands after complaints from landowners.

Roughly 1,400 owners were notified their properties are near the wildlife paths. The proposed ordinance isn't finished yet, but it now would allow owners within the routes to build under existing zoning standards and adjust the direction of a linkage, among other options.

Existing buildings are exempt.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or toll-free at (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Drinks can flow at Wesley Chapel theater 07/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2008 10:58am]

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