Smithfield Herald

Princeton group upset by new ABC store

Princeton residents opposed to an ABC store in town took their concerns to county commissioners last week.

When a county proposes an ABC store in a community, locals can weigh in during a public comment period. In Princeton, this period ended in August after the Johnston County ABC Commission, in accordance with state law, posted a sign at the proposed location for at least 30 days.

But the residents who appeared before county commissioners asked for an extended comment period, saying they were unaware of the store.

“Whether intentional or not, the sign did not effectively inform the community,” said Princeton News-Leader publisher Barry Merrill, who spoke for the group.

Princeton’s ABC store will be next to the Dollar General at 9576 U.S. 70 East. Merrill argued that locals driving by at 55 mph couldn’t see the sign.

Merrill said the state ABC Commission notified his newspaper about the store, but not in time for the paper to get the word out. The state approved the store in the morning before the News-Leader could publish a story that afternoon. Merrill said the county ABC board never notified his newspaper about the store.

In an interview after the commissioners’ meeting, Swade Carroll, general manager of Johnston’s ABC stores, said state law requires him to notify the public only through posting a sign. He said he never heard any complaints during the commenting period, so he moved ahead with the store.

Merrill told commissioners that residents had contacted the county and state ABC boards but neither had granted an extension of the comment period. Carroll said the county ABC commission has already signed a lease for the new store.

Commissioners listened to Merrill and others talk about the harm alcohol causes to families. They then asked whether the local ABC board had gone ahead with the project, including signing a lease. Commissioners also wondered whether they had the authority to extend the comment period. In North Carolina, liquor-store matters rest with county and state ABC boards.

County attorney David Mills told commissioners they did not have the power to intervene. “The location of an ABC store is solely in the purview of the local ABC board and the N.C. ABC commission,” he said. “This board has no say in the matter.”

Commissioner Chad Stewart, who represents Princeton, made a motion to extend the comment period, but no one seconded the motion.

Merrill said residents had gathered more than 150 signatures on a petition to extend the commenting period. Carroll said those names represent a small fraction of Princeton’s population.

Carroll said if residents had commented in that first month, “it would have been fine. It’s just too late in the process.”

Also on the agenda

Also last week, commissioners held a public hearing on how the county plans to spend a $317,000 Rural Operating Assistance Program grant. No one commented. The money supports public transportation for seniors.

Neal Davis, executive director of Community & Seniors Services, told commissioners that the grant had increased from last year but was still lower than the 2011 allotment of $354,000.

Commissioners approved a $400,000 tax-exempt loan for the Corinth-Holder Volunteer Fire Department, which will use the money to buy a fire truck.

Commissioners awarded a contract for 911 communications to Communications International. The contract calls for increased coverage in the McGee’s Crossroads area. Money will come from this year’s 911 communications budget.