Residents still oppose plan for liquor store
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
A group of residents who oppose plans to open a liquor store at 5636 N. Milwaukee Ave. sent a letter in December asking the city Liquor Control Commission to not approve the license, table the license until after the February election or subject the license to a plan of operation that they have developed instead of the one that Alderman John Arena (45th) is working on with the owner.
"We looked at his business plan, and he has an immaculate relationship with the city and he is investing $300,000 into the building and I see it as a general positive," Arena said. "There has been some fervor about this, but it’s less about the business development and what he brings to the table and much about something else."
Arena said that the time of opposition was over and that he is working with the liquor commission and owner Pradeep Patel in negotiating a plan of operation.
"I’m supportive of the community’s concerns, but the time of opposition, is over and now we have 60 days to negotiate and it will be done this year," Arena said.
However, resident Paul Bobor, who owns a home nearby in the 5600 block of North Marmora Avenue, said that residents have been kept in the dark about the "high end" liquor store that would be called 4th Octave Wine and Spirits and that the alderman has not been listening to their concerns.
"We would really like for the liquor commission to disallow the liquor license or table it to after the election when an alderman has more foothold or is more grounded and listens to our concerns," Bobor said.
The Zoning Board of Appeals at its Sept. 19 meeting approved a special use that would allow a liquor store to open despite objections by residents. A liquor commission spokeswoman said that the license has not been granted and that the commission does not comment on individual cases.
A letter opposing the project which 43 residents signed was presented to the zoning board at its July 18 meeting. The owner of the proposed store was not at that meeting, and the board continued the matter until September because board members wanted to hear from the owner how he would address the concerns of residents.
The residents have been planning to work with the owner on a plan that would limit operating hours and prohibit the sale of single-serve containers of beer and certain fortified wines.
The plan of operation that the residents have agreed on would allow the store to operate from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. or from 10 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.
The plan also requires a cash register that confirms dates of birth, security cameras, outdoor lighting and a sufficient number of employees to deter theft and loitering. The plan also calls for the building to have no windows on the wall adjacent to Marmora Avenue and no flashing signs.
Arena, who supports the opening of the store, requires the operators of new liquor stores in the ward to agree to a plan of operation with restrictions that become a condition of the store’s license. Arena has maintained that the store would be a good addition to the area and that it is better than having a vacant parcel.
Arena said that he is working with the owner on a plan that would address hours of operation and the types of alcohol that would be sold. Under his policy on the sale of alcohol, the hours of operation are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.
The policy also requires automated electronic locks on all products in coolers, no single-serve alcohol sales, placement of signs that say that loitering is not allowed, and surveillance cameras.
"Arena’s plan of operation is minimal at best and doesn’t go well with the community," Bobor said. "My basic feeling is that Arena doesn’t want to discuss this and does not want our input as a plan of operation."
"If we could agree on a plan of operation then it would be a win-win for everybody," Bobor said. "It could give us the protections that we want and in turn we could all be good neighbors and they could do what they want to do."
Arena said that he has listened to the residents’ concerns.
"There will be craft beer there," Arena said. "It will be an upscale store. We demanded a special plan of operation. The residents have their plan of operation, but I made sure that we have addressed legitimate concerns with the owner."
"The basic plan is being used to develop a plan of operations with the petitioner, and that will get my support," Arena said. "Some concerns that the resident had have been addressed. There will be no curb cut because that’s not what the petitioner is asking for. People can bring fears into the conversation, but I have to see if those fears are real."
Arena said that he held a public hearing on the matter in February and that he will not hold a second one. "I can’t make a business wait and have him go to a meeting after meeting when there is not that much opposition and I have to base that on real concerns," he said.
"There will be safe guards in the type of liquors that are sold, the type of product, the size of the product. This is a very complex plan of operations that I don’t think many other aldermen utilize."
Arena said that when it comes to liquor stores in the ward, each plan is developed on a case-by-case basis.
Arena said that Patel asked the Gladstone Park Chamber of Commerce for a letter of support for the store, chamber president David Wians said that the chamber does not take positions on liquor licenses.
"We have only made one recommendation for a business in the chamber’s 23 years of existence," Wians said. He said that Arena criticized the chamber on social media for not supporting the growth of business in the area.
"It probably will be approved, but the chamber is not in the business of saying yay or nay to businesses," Wians said.
A portion of the 1,600-square-foot building where the store would be located runs along Marmora Avenue, a side street. The driveway to the store’s parking lot is on Milwaukee Avenue.
"The problems started at the zoning meeting we had with Arena," Bobor said. "The zoning judge took us out to the back chamber to meet with Arena and we thought that we would have a chance to speak."
Bobor said that Arena had said under oath that the residents have not reached out to him, that he never met with the group and that he was not aware of petitions that were presented to the zoning board in July which contained 43 signatures of residents who live within 250 feet of the site.
"From that point on we had absolutely no information about the project," Bobor said.
"I have not received a plan of operation when I already have a plan of operation," Arena said.
In the letter sent to liquor control commissioner Gregory Steadman on Dec. 10, Bobor and other residents said that the area is not demographically "high end" for expensive liquors and that there are 10 bars and eight liquor stores within walking distance of the site.
"Arena has refused to speak with any of our group, the Gladstone Chamber of Commerce and under oath at the last zoning meeting that he was aware of any resident concerns regarding the 4th Octave liquor store," Bobor said in the letter to the commissioner.
"We don’t understand why Alderman Arena continues to support the proposed 4th Octave liquor store completely ignoring residents’ objections. It seems that the alderman is going through extreme steps to gain approval for Mr. Patel. What’s in it for Mr. Arena? I would think that with the upcoming election in February 2015, he would be more considerate of voters’ opinions."
Arena has exempted the area from a proposed moratorium on liquor sales which would prohibit new packaged liquor stores in almost all commercial areas in the ward.