New convenience stores in Oak Park could once again sell beer and wine under a hotly disputed plan passed Tuesday by the City Council’s law and legislation committee.
By a 2-1 vote, the committee agreed to allow small stores to sell beer and wine in a neighborhood that previously prohibited such sales.
The city currently does not allow alcohol retailers to open in a special Oak Park corridor along Broadway between Alhambra Boulevard and just past Stockton Boulevard, and south on Stockton to the Elder Creek Road area. The city imposed the underlying ban in 2001 in an effort to reduce crime by outlawing liquor stores that devoted more than half of shelf space to alcohol.
A planning department change inserted into city code in 2013 inadvertently expanded the prohibition to convenience stores that devote a smaller share of space to alcohol. Some residents of Oak Park and Tahoe Park want that accidental ban to remain as a crime deterrent. Others contend the area no longer faces the level of crime and blight it once did and that the city should consider new stores on an individual basis.
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At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman Jay Schenirer proposed allowing businesses to apply for permits on an individual basis for a two-year period to “see what happens in the neighborhood,” he said. Schenirer, who represents much of Oak Park, said that those permits could include restrictions that neighbors have sought, such as limited hours of sale.
Councilman Jeff Harris backed Schenirer’s proposal, adding specific bans on spirits and single-serving containers.
Councilman Eric Guerra was unconvinced, however, and voted against the proposal. Guerra represents the Tahoe Park neighborhood directly east of Oak Park.
“If we’ve got a law, whether it was intentional or not, and it’s working, then why change it?” he asked. “I don’t feel changing the special planning district even to allow for other conditions is a positive thing.”
While 7-Eleven has not filed applications yet, the issue of the planning district, which was first enacted in 2001, has filled two contentious Planning And Design Commission meetings. The issue was so divisive that the planning board was unable to find a solution and passed the problem back to City Council.
Currently, 17 of the city’s 289 off-site liquor licenses – those allowing sales of alcohol for consumption elsewhere – are in Oak Park and nearby areas. Fourteen are concentrated on Stockton Boulevard, and three are on Broadway.
The law and legislation proposal will now go before City Council, but a date has not been set.