Is Burlington planning to expand its social drinking district to daily operation?

One dimension of Mebane’s discussion about establishing a social drinking district was the statement by Erin Nettles, who formerly served as Burlington’s downtown director, and revealed that her former city would soon be considering a major expansion of its social district.  Burlington’s district currently operates only on Friday and Saturday between 12:00 noon and 10:00 p.m.  Mebane’s was proposed for Thursdays through Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Nettles said the Burlington program had been “wonderful,” drawn “no complaints,” and that foot traffic in businesses in the larger city’s social drinking district had picked up, although she acknowledged that substantiating its impact “has been difficult to track.”

But Nettles told Mebane’s council that she expects Burlington’s council to consider moving to additional hours each day and every day of the week “within the next month or so.”

She told Mebane’s city council that the expansion would be from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. seven days a week, rather than the two days that have been in effect since Burlington’s social drinking district launched in September.

Officials in Burlington insisted the next day, when asked about Nettles’ comments in Mebane, that there is currently no actionable plan to expand the city’s downtown social district.

Even so, murmurs of such an expansion have recently come from the Burlington Downtown Corporation, which has yet to make a formal request to Burlington’s city council to extend either the hours, days, or the boundaries of this district.

The district’s potential expansion apparently came to the attention of Burlington’s leaders last month when Nettles, then the corporation’s director, referred generally to the idea in her final report to Burlington’s city council, which was presented during a work session on April 15.

Burlington’s city manager Craig Honeycutt insists that Nettles may have jumped the gun when she broached this issue to the council that evening.

“She probably mentioned it to the council prematurely,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s no formal proposal to bring to the council.”

Mayor Jim Butler likewise contends that this entire idea seems to be in a rather early stage of development.

“It’s not ready to be brought to the council,” he added.

Meanwhile, Burlington’s police chief Alan Balog acknowledged that he, like the council, got his first whiff of a potential expansion from Nettles’ remark. Since then, he added, the police department’s top brass have discussed the idea internally. Balog also observed that the police department hasn’t logged any arrests or disruptions related to the existing district.

“There haven’t been any issues that I’ m aware of,” he said.