A Lexington church protested a beer garden’s alcohol license. Now it’s heading to court

Vision Ventures

A showdown between a Lexington church and a would-be Main Street beer garden and restaurant is set to go to court this week.

The Navy Yard on Main Biergarten and Restaurant has been planned for the corner of West Main Street and North Church Street in Lexington, at the former location of Carpet One. Plans call for 11,000 square feet of outdoor dining space and around 8,000 square feet of indoor dining, and owners have said they would push to have the town’s largest selection of craft beer.

However, neighboring St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church earlier this year filed a protest with the state Department of Revenue opposing the alcohol licenses for the Navy Yard, saying the establishment was too close to the church and that the location was unsuitable for a beer garden. The alcohol licenses were subsequently denied, pending a court appeal. The Navy Yard halted work on the project until the case could be worked out.

Now, the matter is set to be heard in state administrative law court at 10 a.m. Friday morning in Columbia. Judges in administrative law court alcohol license cases don’t typically issue rulings from the bench and usually publish their decisions within a few weeks after a hearing.

Gavin Smith, the managing partner of the Navy Yard on Main, told The State the business has made numerous attempts to resolve issues with church leadership, to no avail. Despite the lingering battle, he remains enthused about the biergarten idea.

“Opening Navy Yard on Main is our dream, and we are excited by the possibility of living out our dream in our hometown,” Smith said in a statement. “Our restaurant and biergarten emphasizes that importance of community, and we’re hopeful for a positive outcome on Friday so that we may bring the communal environment that Navy Yard on Main will foster to our hometown of Lexington, SC. We love Lexington, and we know Lexington will love Navy Yard.”

St. Stephen’s has been steadfast in its protest to the alcohol licenses for the Navy Yard. In a Nov. 28 service, video of which is on YouTube, church council president Mike Brittingham offered the congregation an update on the case and notified them of the Friday court hearing. He also detailed that the church has, so far, spent $20,000 on the case for attorney’s fees, depositions and other costs associated with the matter.

“This is a difficult issue,” Brittingham told the congregation. “We just ask for your thoughts and prayers this week as we go into the hearing.”

The State left a voice message Wednesday for St. Stephen’s pastor the Rev. Jason Antley.

One key issue at play in the case is the distance between the church and the would-be beer garden and restaurant. By state law, businesses in city limits must be at least 300 feet from a school, church or playground to obtain a business liquor-by-the-drink license.

Per state law, the distance is to be measured “from the nearest entrance of the place of business by following the shortest route of ordinary pedestrian or vehicular travel along the public thoroughfare to the nearest point of entrance to the grounds of the church or school, or any building in which religious services or school classes are held, whichever is the closer.”

An investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division earlier this year said that the church was 310 feet away from the front entrance doors of Navy Yard on Main.

Pre-hearing paperwork filed with the court indicates the church will likely dispute the measured distance between the bar and the church and how the measurements were taken. There have been a number of court cases in the state through the years in which the nuances of the distances between bars and schools or churches have been debated.

The Navy Yard would be another addition to what has been a business resurgence along Lexington’s Main Street in recent years. A number of restaurants and bars such as Alodia’s, Nicky’s Pizza, Craft Axe Throwing and Keg Cowboy — have set up shop along the corridor, and the nearby Icehouse Amphitheater has been a hub for concerts, movies, festivals and other activities.

As of Wednesday morning, nearly 4,600 people had signed a change.org petition supporting the Navy Yard’s attempt to open its doors. Smith said, if the beer garden gets a favorable ruling, it could be late spring or early summer when it opens.

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