Levelland church fights mayor’s new business - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

Levelland church fights mayor’s new business

LEVELLAND, TX (KCBD) -

It's a heated fight against a Levelland youth ministry and the city's mayor. The root of the fight is alcohol sales and neither side is willing to give up.

Levelland's mayor Bo Bowman is opening up a restaurant in the downtown square called Levelland Time. Months ago Bowman applied for a food and beverage permit that would allow him to sell alcohol in his new restaurant. Bowman says he has no intention of his new restaurant being a bar, but simply wants to give customers the choice to drink alcohol with their meal if they chose to.

Further down the road, across the street of Levelland Time is The South Plains Church Oneighty Youth Ministry.

In response to Bowman's alcohol permit, they sent in a formal protest to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Oneighty is basing their protest on a city ordinance that states no business can sell alcohol within 300 feet of a church, hospital or school.

"I'm protecting that one kid," said student life minister Jacob Tucker. "We have kids who walk here, there are kids who ride their bikes here, and I'm just protecting that one kid. We just want something to be done, and we want our city ordinance to be followed."

To prove to KCBD the business was within 300 feet of Oneighty, in front of cameras ministry members measured from the door to door. The result was 254 feet, but this didn't stop TABC from granting Bowman's permit.

At the beginning of April TABC sent Tucker a letter saying the protest was dismissed. When KCBD called the TABC investigator, he says the reason the protest was denied is because Bowman's permit application had already been certified by the City of Levelland secretary saying it did not violate any city ordinances.

The investigator also told us the city had given them a measurement of 304 feet between the two buildings. When KCBD asked City Secretary Beth Walls where the measurement came from, she denies the city took any measurement. While no one can give a straight answer as to where this mystery measurement came from, Levelland's city attorney says he recognizes that measurement could be wrong.

"Just sitting here with my own blue print and own scale ruler, it appears the likelihood is it's going to be less than 300feet," said Richard Husen, city attorney.

According to the city, Walls says no measurement is necessary – that's because they consider Oneighty a "youth activity center" and not a church. Therefore the city ordinance doesn't apply to this situation.

"Does this fall under the definition of a school, church or hospital?" asked Husen. "Obviously some people feel very strongly and think it's a church. It's one of those areas where I think there can be deliberation and there is some precedent out there for prior court decisions."

The city says they're basing their ruling on case law – but so is Oneighty. "According to IRS regulations anything operation under a 501c3 which is a tax exemption for a church, any entity that operates under the same entity of the church is considered their church," said Tucker. "We have church services every single week for our youth that bring in any where from 90 to 130 kids here."

It's a vicious cycle, with a lot of "he said, she said". The only question remains is how far will Oneighty go to prove they are a church. Tucker says they've filed a second petition for TABC to revoke the permit they granted. Tucker also says they have been seeking legal advice for the issue.

In response to all the debate, Mayor Bowman says he feels like he didn't do anything wrong because the youth ministry was always considered an activity center and not a church.

Copyright 2012 KCBD. All rights reserved.

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