BAKER — The Baker School Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday to sue the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for granting a license to sell alcohol at a proposed RaceTrac gas station near Baker High School.
The First Baptist Church of Baker, across the street from the property where RaceTrac wants to build, also has sued the board over the same issue, as did John A. Jarreau Properties, which owns the Texaco gas station on La. 19 and Coolidge in Baker.
School Board members Calvin Dees, Dana Carpenter, Elaine Davis and Rosatina Johnson voted in favor of filing the lawsuit; Shona Boxie cast the dissenting vote.
“I don’t feel comfortable fighting against the city on this. I also think RaceTrac coming would bring money to the city and to the school,” Boxie said.
Boxie also expressed concern about the cost of the lawsuit to the school system.
“I don’t consider this vote as against the city but for the students and (to prevent) their imminent exposure to alcohol,” Davis countered.
The proposed gas station would be at 1182 Main St., on the corner of Main Street (La. 19) and Groom Road. A dentist office and other businesses occupy the shopping center on the property, which is adjacent to the football stadium parking lot of Baker High.
Throughout the discussion of RaceTrac’s alcohol license, both in Baker City Council meetings and alcohol board meetings, the parties involved have disputed how to interpret provisions of state law that set 300 feet as the minimum distance between a church or school and an establishment selling alcohol.
A point of contention has been whether municipalities are allowed to measure the distance in ways other than those specified by the state, which is from property line to the nearest point of the premise to be licensed.
Baker’s law aligned with the state guidelines until January, when the City Council adopted an ordinance allowing Baker to measure door to door, making it easier for businesses to obtain liquor licenses.
When considering the RaceTrac alcohol license, the alcohol board accepted the measurement presented by RaceTrac, which showed the distance between the front door of the school and the proposed gas station door as 375 feet.
The First Baptist Church of Baker is about 387 feet from the RaceTrac property.
The basis of the School Board’s lawsuit is that the January ordinance does not follow state law and the alcohol board did not follow proper procedure in considering RaceTrac’s request for a license.
No sign was pasted on the site announcing RaceTrac’s attempt to obtain a liquor license nor did the alcohol board hold a special hearing to consider opposition from the community, including the School Board, according to the lawsuit.
However, Tom Easterly, the attorney representing RaceTrac, argued Tuesday that state law allows municipalities to have no local ordinances governing the placement of alcohol-selling businesses.
Easterly contended that on Aug. 8, the Baker City Council repealed its January ordinance, leaving no law in place regarding how close establishments selling liquor could be to churches or schools within the city.
Attorney Jaqueline Wilson, who represents the church and Texaco disagreed. Wilson argued that based on Baker City Attorney Ken Fabre’s stated opinion, Baker City Councilwoman Doris Alexander did not follow proper procedure under the city’s Home Rule Charter, rendering the repeal invalid.
The City Council did introduce a written ordinance returning Baker’s law to state guidelines on Aug. 22; however, it voted to table the ordinance at its Sept. 12 meeting.