Planners recommend to reject liquor store in St. Joseph Twp.

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A special use permit for a potential liquor store did not get the St. Joseph Township Planning Commission’s blessing Tuesday night.

Planners voted unanimously to recommend the Board of Trustees reject the special use proposal, after more than 50 residents voiced opposition at an hour-long public hearing.

The proposed liquor store, which would also operate as a convenience store, would be at 1844 Colfax Ave. Building Inspector Jerry Jones said during the hearing the proposed store met all the township ordinances.

Residents argued the liquor store would decrease property value and bring crime with it.

Chief among the reasons included the proposed store’s proximity to a school. Several residents argued putting a liquor store within a block of a school was “negligent.”

Fair Plain Renaissance Middle School is about 574 feet north of the proposed liquor store property. That distance falls within the township’s ordinance, which requires a distance of at least 500 feet.

Jones said he measured the distance four times to be sure.

“When we were first approached a few months ago, they said it would be a convenience store that would sell other items that included liquor,” Jones said after the meeting. “But the fact that liquor is being sold there has fueled the fire here tonight. It was pretty straightforward as to what they were requesting.”

Colfax Inc., which owns the property, had a lawyer present to speak on its behalf.

The lawyer, John Campbell, said they were in the process of attaining a beer and wine license and packaged liquor license. Neither the lawyer or the developer were available for comment after the meeting.

The building the company is looking to turn into a liquor store was originally a bank, before being turned into a day care center. Jones said the building is now vacant.

James Kovach, who lives near the property, said he dealt in real estate and said he would rather see blight next door than a liquor store.

“If this gets approved, I’ll be back here asking for a variance for an 8-foot brick wall,” Kovach said.

Residents continued to pour into the Township Hall during the meeting, where there was standing room only by the door.

Planning Commission Chairman Jonathan Fisk said he and other commissioners chose to reject the proposal due to the overwhelming crowd size.

“I think the strength of people’s feelings and the number that came out helped me decide,” Fisk said. “It takes something controversial to get this many people out to our meetings.”

Planners made the recommendation to reject the proposal, but the Board of Trustees will have the final say. The next regular board meeting is at 6 p.m. Aug. 1. The board is holding a workshop at noon the same day.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 13, 2016)

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