BAKER — Despite opposition from a number of local businesses and school and city officials, the Baker Alcohol Beverage Control Board on a 5-1 vote Tuesday approved a liquor license for a proposed RaceTrac gas station at Groom Road and La. 19.

Board members Willie Williams, Joe Williams, Yolanda Vessell, Joyce Matthews and Brenda Lands voted in favor of granting the license.

Clifford Johnson cast the dissenting vote. Naisha Cooper was absent.

The ABC board’s decision is final and not subject to approval from the Baker City Council, Baker City Attorney Ken Fabre said.

According to documents submitted by RaceTrac attorney Tom Easterly, the proposed gas station would be 375 feet from Baker High School, measured door to door.

Baker School Board attorney Winston DeCuir voiced the district’s opposition to the RaceTrac selling alcohol.

“Baker High School is right behind this property, and the property lines touch. It’s right next to the football field. People can stop right off and get beer. This is exactly what the state ordinance is meant to prevent,” he said during the meeting.

State law requires at least 300 feet between a church or school and any establishment selling alcoholic beverages, measured property line to property line. However, the state does allow municipalities to use alternate means of measurement.

In January, the Baker City Council approved an ordinance allowing the city to instead measure the distance door to door.

Councilwoman Doris Alexander attempted to repeal that ordinance Aug. 8; however, because she did not present a written ordinance to that effect. Fabre argued the repeal attempt, which the council voted to introduce, was not valid.

The council introduced a written ordinance Aug. 22 to return Baker to the state standard of measuring property line to property line; however, the council cannot vote to make the ordinance law until its next meeting, on Sept. 12.

Attorney Jessica Starns, who represents James Jarreau, the owner of the Texaco gas station on La. 19 and Coolidge, argued to the ABC board that the RaceTrac application was incomplete because no lease was attached showing that RaceTrac is renting or intending to buy the property, and therefore, the board should not consider it.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

She announced her intention to file a lawsuit against the ABC board if they approved the license.

Easterly produced RaceTrac’s lease on the property and presented it to the board. He said if the alcohol license was not approved, RaceTrac would not develop the property, which is currently occupied by a dentist office as well as other businesses.

“I’ll tell you this, I’m from Baton Rouge, and I rarely stop in Baker because it is a blighted area. RaceTrac is proposing to come in and spend a lot of money,” Easterly said at the ABC board meeting.

Baker City Councilwoman Glenda Bryant echoed the sentiment.

“If we are going to move Baker forward, we are going to have to allow other businesses in besides the small businesses that dominate this city and don’t contribute much,” she said.

Other Baker residents, however, expressed to the ABC board their opposition to granting the license.

Jay Avance, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Baker, which measured door to door is 387 feet from the proposed RaceTrac, told the board he and his congregation do not want alcohol sales at the site.

Alexander stated her opposition vehemently. “I implore you to vote for our children and grandchildren until they can vote for themselves,” she said.

The Baker School Board, which met Tuesday after the ABC board meeting, took no action on the matter, although the School Board has previously discussed its opposition to the liquor license.

Interviewed after the meeting, Superintendent Herman Brister did not express an opinion on the ABC board's decision.

School Board member Dana Carpenter said DeCuir had accurately represented the school board’s position at the ABC board meeting, and he had no further comment.