By Jesse Wood
Beer and wine are here to stay in Newland restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and other establishments.
Although the sale of beer and wine was initially approved in the 2009 election, citizen Steve Nelson persuaded the Newland Town Council to place an alcohol referendum on the ballot in the hopes that voters would ban the sale of wine and beer.
Voters, however, didn’t agree with Nelson.
More than 70 percent of voters approved the sale of beer and wine within town limits in the 2015 municipal elections, according to unofficial results released on Tuesday evening. Beer sales were approved by a 235 to 93 margin, and wine sales won out with a 233 to 91 margin.
“Well, we just got beat,” Nelson said on Wednesday.
Nelson lives and operates a body shop outside of Newland but owns about half an acre in town. Before the election, Nelson said he tired of seeing beer and wine bottles strewn about town and cited tragic statistics related to deaths and car accidents related to alcohol.
“I just assume have a town like Mayberry,” Nelson said prior to the election. “… I go to church and the Lord just put it in my ear for about a year to do something about it. It’s just religious reasons.”
This was the second time that Newland voters have had the opportunity to deny the sale of beer and wine in the past six years. In 2009, Newland voters first approved the sale of beer and wine by a slim margin: 54 percent. In 2009, more than 225 people came to the polls. This time around, almost 330 people voted in the referendum.
“I would say, off the top of my head, this is the best voter turnout,” Avery County Board of Elections Deputy Director Caleb Hogan said.
Greg Seiz, owner of Carolina Window Fashions in Newland, was among the supporters of alcohol sales in Newland. Seiz picketed on Election Day and penned letters to the editors leading up to the election.
“I am obviously very pleased and I feel like this is a small step to continue to try to progress our town,” Seiz said. “I am hoping by the amount of new voters in the town that turned out – and the amount of voters is unprecedented … I am hoping that this will rally and unite our town and that we can get to work on much bigger pressing issues … such as the high poverty rate and jobs.”
For a prior story and more background on this issue that pit Christian against Christian, click here.
Nelson Arrested on Election Day
Nelson was charged with second-degree trespassing on Election Day. He was campaigning near the Avery-Morrison Public Library polling precinct at about 10 a.m. when the cops were called.
Although he was lawfully outside of the 50-foot radius near any polling place, he was campaigning on property owned by First Baptist Church.
Nelson said he picked that spot to protest because it was outside of the 50-foot boundary defined by state statutes and because he saw other people campaigning on the lot. But First Baptist Church pastor Dr. Bill Jones told Nelson that he couldn’t campaign on the church’s property, according to Nelson.
“It was like they just singled me out,” Nelson said. “Mr. Jones said he was going to call the law if I didn’t move. I said, ‘Well, just call the law.”
Newland Police Chief Jason Brown arrested Nelson after asking him to leave.
Nelsonwas charged with second-degree trespassing and has a Nov. 30 court date.