CHIPLEY - Washington County Commissioners unanimously voted to pass an updated alcohol ordinance when the Board of County Commissioners met in regular session Wednesday.

Not to be confused with having Washington reclassified as a “wet” county - which would require a majority voter-approved referendum - the ordinance addresses only the sale and consumption of items that can already be legally sold, such as beer and wine containing under 6.234 percent alcohol.

Under the new ordinance, the distance requirement for the sale and consumption of alcohol is now 500 feet from schools and churches - a change for the church requirement, which is down from the previous requirement of 2,000 feet.

Gone altogether is the residential requirement - which previously stated alcohol could not be sold within 500 feet of any residence - and could only be sold between 500 and 1,000 feet of a residence if all property owners gave written consent. The change mirrors the state's requirement, which only prohibits the sale of alcohol within 500 feet of a school.

Time restrictions were loosened under the new ordinance as well, stating alcohol may not be served, sold, or consumed between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. - allowing an extra three morning hours from the previous beginning time of 7 a.m.

Residents were on hand to speak both for and against the changes.

Local developer Jim Town stressed the potential for economic growth that comes with the loosened distance requirements.

"It will attract [more restaurants], and we need that on our interstate interchanges to get the motel development and some of the other things that go with expansion," he said. "It's important that we have business come to Washington County and add to our tax base."

Richard Burke of Washington County-based motorcycle ministry, the Hellfighters, told commissioners the changes do not reflect the spirit of the community, saying that there are other opportunities to improve economic development.

"I don't want that in Chipley," Burke said. "Let's do some other stuff other than depend on alcohol for Washington County. I hate that when our, when we need money, we go straight to alcohol."

The new ordinance took effect upon its adoption Wednesday.