O'Fallon Progress

O’Fallon City Council denies pour liquor license for Schnucks location

The O’Fallon Progress

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A proposal to allow O’Fallon Schnucks’ adult customers to purchase a glass of wine or beer to accompany food orders at the Kaldi’s Coffee Bar was shot down after two nearby churches and its members were vocal in opposition to the store’s planned use for a pour liquor license.

In a 4-8 vote, with two aldermen absent, Schnucks Markets Inc.’s rezoning request to allow on-site consumption was denied by the O’Fallon City Council at its meeting Monday. The Community Development Department staff had recommended approval, but wanted hours restricted, only allowing alcohol sales from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Aldermen Jessica Lotz, Ross Rosenberg and Dan Witt said they were voting based on what they heard from their ward residents, with Lotz and Witt voting no and Rosenberg voting yes, saying he was personally opposed but a majority were for the proposal.

Alderman Mark Morton pointed out “The Amazon Effect,” and how retailers were trying to increase foot traffic and sales at brick-and-mortar locations because of increased pressure from online sales.

“Schnucks has been on the forefront of this and has been a leader in the industry. I hate to see them hamstrung by the government,” Morton said. “There’s risks everywhere. Someone buying a Tallboy and drinking it in their car is one, too.”

He voted in favor of it.

Reasons cited by multiple speakers and several aldermen included concerns over the primary use of a grocery store, imbibing alcohol at a business that has families who may not want to be around it, and the challenge of store staff to monitor inside and outside the patio.

Several residents and the pastors spoke of a safety factor, presenting a “What If” scenario of children playing and competing on the nearby field, and what if someone who had been drinking hops a curb and runs into the kids?

These were among points debated by the Community Development Committee on May 28, which voted 1-5 against it, and expressed in handwritten letters of opposition from church congregations. The Planning Commission, at its May 14 meeting, had agreed with the limited hours, and moved the request forward in a 6-2 vote to the CDC.

Schnucks, which operates 119 stores in five states, has in-store Kaldi’s Coffee Bars in O’Fallon and Columbia, plus Culinaria downtown, Des Peres, Missouri, and Woods Mill in St. Louis. They requested a zoning amendment from Community Business District to Planned Community Business District to allow serving of retail liquor at the Kaldi’s inside and the outside patio.

The O’Fallon store is located at 907 E. Highway 50 and Seven Hills Road, across from Spring Valley Dental, and is the former Hart Food and Drug location, which Schnucks acquired in 2008. The building is 42,000 square feet. Hours of operation are 6 a.m. to midnight.

Members of the First Baptist Church and CrossView Church filled the back rows of the council chambers, applauding everyone who spoke against the idea. The public comment section of the meeting lasted 45 minutes.

Several speakers pointed out they were loyal Schnucks customers but would not step foot in the store again if liquor was served. Packaged liquor sales were never cited as an issue.

Two executives with Schnucks also spoke, explained what the store planned to do and what would not be going on, such as people roaming the aisles with drinks in their hands.

Jed Penney, who takes care of licenses and permits for Schnucks, said the store is “not a bar.”

“What we are proposing is like any other fast-casual restaurant that exists in town,” he said, asking to be treated the same as they are.

Penney said they have a good track record with multiple communities. He cited reference letters from six municipalities who have long-standing relationships with the company.

Mike Modarelli of Belleville, Schnucks real estate manager, said workers are well-trained and do not serve those underage or already intoxicated patrons or “habitual drunkards.”

“It’s not something we put up with,” he said.

Schnucks serves beer and wine at several of their St. Louis area stores, and at their Peoria, Ill., store. Several city officials sent reference letters on the markets’ behalf, citing no issues or concerns with any Schnucks regarding alcohol.

Brentwood City Administrator Bola Akande noted: “Schnucks has always acted in a cooperative manner, recognizing their position in the community.”

In 2013, the Ladue Zoning and Planning Board approved a special permit to sell liquor by the drink at two Schnucks stores. At that time, a spokesman for Schnucks said selling wine and beer by the drink was a growing trend in area grocery stores.

“It’s something we have in a handful of our stores now. We offer it in stores where we believe our customers would appreciate it and this would be an option they’d enjoy while they’re shopping,” spokesman Paul Simon had said at that meeting.

At that time, Missouri Schnucks stores in Des Peres, Wildwood, Ballwin and the Culinaria downtown were serving beer and wine by the glass. The Des Peres store has a restaurant area devoted to serving customers lunch, dinner and snacks adjacent to that store’s produce section.

First Baptist Church is located at 1111 E. Highway 50 and CrossView Church is at 915 E. Highway 50.

Kent Wilson, pastor of CrossView, had rallied his congregation with a plea on Facebook May 28:

“Please help us pray about a zoning change being proposed by our neighbor, Schnucks Market. Schnucks is petitioning the City of O’Fallon IL to allow Schnucks to ‘pour and serve’ alcoholic beverages to its customers. Our church property is adjacent to Schnucks. This change would turn Schnucks into a grocery store/restaurant/tavern. (Look up the definition of ‘tavern.’) This poses an unnecessary risk to our church people and those using our field, The First Baptist Church of O’Fallon. The next meeting is at City Hall on Tuesday, 5/28, at 6pm. Thank you for your prayers. Please share this post with others,” he posted.

Wilson spoke at the meeting about the field where children play. He argued Illinois statute requires 100 feet between a house of worship and places that serve alcohol, and technically 297 feet separate the church and Schnucks. However, he argued, the field could be considered a place of worship too, that it was not confined to a building.

Skip Leininger, an associate pastor, said First Baptist Church uses the vacant land next to Schnucks’ outdoor patio for sports and recreational purposes at their school. He said 157 children play soccer on Saturdays — with practice twice a week — and 244 people are involved in flag football during the fall, which also has a cheerleading component.

The First Baptist Academy has 289 children who use the field for physical education class and recess, and other recreation, Leininger said.

“We’re not against Schnucks selling what they sell. We want it in a responsible way,” he said.

Patty Swanson wondered why a grocery store was talking about having open alcohol for sale.

“I don’t understand it. Will it make the community better? Is it all about revenue?” she said.

Another resident, Pat Dees, said she wanted to feel safe in O’Fallon, and to keep the town safe, this request should be denied.

Another speaker brought up the potential for video game approval.

The vote was Rosenberg, Morton, Dennis Muyleart and Ray Holden in favor, and Lotz, Witt, Nathan Parchman, Jerry Albrecht, Gwen Randolph, Kevin Hagarty, Christopher Monroe and Tom Vorce against. Aldermen Todd Roach and Matthew Gilreath were absent.