Liquor store regulations land on Planning & Zoning agenda

A proposal from a supermarket chain to start selling alcohol is raising eyebrows among local small businesses, and the dispute is headed right to the town’s zoning commission next week.

At issue is the amendment to town zoning regulations that has been requested by Kings Food Markets in Old Greenwich that would allow beer, wine and liquor vendors to open up shop within 1,000 feet of each other. Currently that is not permitted and that prevents the store, which is on Arcadia Road, from selling wine.

The application to change that will be heard at the Sept. 23 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

If approved, Kings Food plans to begin offering a wine selection at its 26 Arcadia Road property, which is less than 400 feet away from both Old Greenwich Fine Wines and Sam’s Wine & Liquor on Sound Beach Avenue. The two existing Old Greenwich establishments said they see King’s plan to offer wines as a direct affront to their businesses, which are restricted to selling alcohol. Together, they have asked customers to sign a petition against the proposed change, garnering hundreds of signatures so far.

“We have over a thousand signatures from residents of Greenwich in support of Kings withdrawing its application, or the zoning board denying their application,” Old Greenwich Fine Wines owner Robert Zalkin said. “We have the support of the community and we have the support of the Old Greenwich Merchant’s Association; we have support from community leaders. A lot of people value and recognize that we’re a small business.”

Staff at Kings Food Market declined to comment on the issue when asked. Greenwich property owner Dan Negrea filed the application to amend the building zone regulations May 28 of this year, asserting that package stores are “just a retail business,” and citing the state’s limit on package stores as sufficient in preventing an influx of alcohol vendors.

“Elimination of the distance separation requirement for package stores under BZR Section 6-194 (a) will not ‘open the gates’ to a rush of additional licenses, since the total number is already limited by the State,” Mr. Negrea’s application reads. “It will have no impact on the dynamics of parking or create a regional draw.”

Mr. Negrea said that changing the restriction will allow more package stores more flexible location options, thereby “encouraging small business enterprise, competition and more resources for the local consumer.”

There are currently 21 package stores operating in town, with the state’s limit for Greenwich set at 24 (one per 2,500 residents.) However, other publications in Connecticut have reported just last month that more than 30 state municipalities are currently over their state set limit. According to Mr. Zalkin, the supermarket has not been receptive of criticism during private meetings.

“We all had a meeting with Kings Market, just to hear why they’re doing this. We explained to them that they’re building a lot of bad will in the community, and they don’t see it that way,” Mr. Zalkin explained. “I don’t think they quite respect the community enough to listen, and that really rubs folks the wrong way.”

Other Connecticut municipalities employ similar zoning regulations preventing package stores from being in close proximity. Stamford currently restricts stores from being less than 1,500 feet apart and Danbury requires at least 2,000 feet of separation, both of which are more lenient in comparison to Greenwich’s current ordinance.

The amendment would impact the town as a whole, beyond the situation currently surrounding Kings in Old Greenwich. Recognizing a potential threat to their business, package store owners in other areas of town have shown their support of Old Greenwich Fine Wines and Sam’s Wine & Liquor. Additionally, Mr. Zalkin said he is concerned about the precedent that could be set should Kings’ application prove successful.

Because of the stipulations attached to alcohol permits, re-establishing a permit is easier at locations that have held one in the past. Other interested alcohol vendors would have an easier path to establishing business at the same location if Kings were to move for any reason after obtaining a wine permit.

The Old Greenwich Association has encouraged residents to attend the Planning & Zoning meeting this coming Tuesday to ensure that their opinions are heard. The commissioners will hear from both sides and take public comment on the issue.

Also on the agenda for the meeting is a planned update on the proposed Greenwich Reform Synagogue in Cos Cob, of which there’s been a lot of contention. The synagogue hit a roadblock earlier this year at the Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals, and lawsuits have put the project in question. The public hearing is scheduled to start at 7:15 p.m. in the Town Hall meeting room.

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