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Neighbors ask county not to give VFW liquor permit

(ran SE edition of LT)

Their fighting days may be over, but a group of local veterans is finding that another battle is just beginning.

VFW Post 1658, a 40-year-old veterans club in the Orange Hill subdivision, recently applied to the county for a liquor license and to operate seven days a week. They soon got the message, however, that area residents were almost unanimously opposed to the request.

At an examiner's hearing Monday morning, VFW official James Ramsden said the sale of alcohol was needed in order to "give a better atmosphere, a more comfortable atmosphere, to veterans that come to the post." Club members who want to drink now bring in their own alcohol.

"Most of our 269 members are retired so we want to give them an alternative to sitting home and watching Days Of Our Lives," he said. "It would make our current members come on a more regular basis."

But residents say that the club is already a disturbance to the neighborhood and that adding the sale of alcohol will only create more problems.

"This is something that I just have to oppose," said Howard Scoggins, who owns the closest home to the post. "I've seen them back out and hit trees before. I have kids and Lord help them if they ever hit one of my kids because they're drunk."

Danger to the area's children and noise disturbances were listed as the neighbors' main concerns. But there were individual complaints also.

Scoggins alleged that one veteran urinated into a bush in front of his 13-year-old daughter. He also said that regular profanity from some members made him angry.

"I don't want my kids listening to the language that comes out of there," he said.

Ramsden denied these charges against the club, but said that although drinking and the use of profanity were not encouraged, those activities could not always be controlled.

"Everybody's human," he said. "Of course you'll have some people using profanity once in a while, but it is certainly not condoned. And if it does happen, the member does not come back to the club. He is suspended."

Traffic was another neighborhood concern. Ramsden said that the club's five lots can hold up to 350 cars, but in a letter to the County Commission, Stephen Frazier wrote that "due to the already inadequate parking facilities, residents have been inconvenienced in getting to and from their homes. With the privilege of a liquor license, the post will draw a bigger crowd which means not only more crowded parking, but also bigger, louder groups."

Said Ramsden: "Membership is not going to increase. We may have a lot of members on the books, but we're lucky to have 25 or 30 people at once, and that's including their families."

Assistant county attorney Jim Bennett suggested that the neighbors and the veterans try to work out a compromise. "The neighbors are the ones who are going to have to live with it, and it might be good to talk to them," he said.

The commission's decision will be announced at a regular meeting July 2.

Resident Roger Gambert said that if the club gets the license, he hopes it won't turn the quiet neighborhood into a loud and active one. "I think they should be able to do anything they want to do on their own property as long as it doesn't affect the rest of us."