Public Watchdog.org

Park Ridge Not “Unfriendly” To Business, Just Nutty

10.18.12

For as long as we can remember, the City of Park Ridge has tried to lure “retail” businesses to our community.  Yet despite that desire being openly expressed by virtually every public official over the past two decades, Park Ridge allegedly has a reputation for being “unfriendly” to business.

We think that’s a bad rap, unless “unfriendly” means not throwing buckets of money at businesses to locate or stay here.  We call that “bribery,” but semantics are debatable. 

After this past Monday night’s performance in the Council Chambers, however, we’re convinced Park Ridge isn’t nearly as “unfriendly” to business as it is “nutty” to business.

On the Council agenda Monday night was a “first reading” (of the required two readings) for approval of a new type of liquor license – a “Class M” license – sought by the Whole Foods Market planned for the southeast corner of Touhy and Washington.  The Class M license would permit the consumption of beer and wine within any grocery store at least 35,000 square feet in area, a criterion which the proposed Whole Foods store would satisfy.

“Champagne Shopping,” anyone?

But a number of the folks who unsuccessfully opposed the zoning change permitting Whole Foods to build a store at that location in the first place apparently figured they could exact a figurative pound of flesh – high-priced prime Angus sirloin? – from the retailer by opposing the new license.   And that led to approximately 2 hours of what often approached theater of the absurd.

Several residents spoke of the carnage that would result from shnockered shoppers slamming their cars into St. Paul of the Cross school kids on their way to and from school – as if those same school kids aren’t already at risk from the lubricated motorists making their way along Northwest Highway from their liquid lunches at the gin mills/restaurants just down the street in Edison Park.  Or from the lunch crowd at Houlihan’s, Chipotle, or even the Pickwick Restaurant who might hit the road a bit tipsy. 

And that’s not even counting the frugal folks who imbibe their Two Buck Chuck at home before heading out on their daily errands. 

If protecting St. Paul kids from drunken drivers is really that much of a concern, however, why haven’t those folks who are ragging on Whole Foods about serving liquor demanded that the Park Ridge Police set up “Checkpoint Paulie” – as in St. Paul, not Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” – on Northwest Hwy. every afternoon to snag impaired drivers – and do the same for the kids at all the other schools in town?

The Council’s contribution to the goofiness was led by Ald. Rich DiPietro (2nd), who sought to amend the original Class M license language proposed by Whole Foods by imposing several restrictions on liquor sales, the most significant of which was limiting Whole Foods’ sale of liquor-by-the-drink to the after-school hours of 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.   DiPietro wasn’t all that clear on why Whole Foods should be limited in ways that neighboring liquor-by-the-drink emporiums are not, but he’s always been more of a one-shot thinker than a comprehensive public policy wonk.

After DiPietro’s amendment passed 6-0, seemingly blessed by the silence of the Whole Foods representative in the audience, the amended Class M license was approved by a 4 (Alds. Raspanti, Knight, Mazzuca and Maloney) to 2 (Alds. DiPietro and Smith; Ald. Sweeney absent) vote.

That’s right, DiPietro voted against his own amendment!  Crass two-bit politics, anyone?

Not to be outdone, Ald. Jim Smith (3rd) – whose views and votes sometimes suggest the adverse effect of sunspot activity or, perhaps, subtle changes in the Earth’s magnetic fields – sought an amendment that would permit any business in Park Ridge to obtain a liquor license. 

Banking on bourbon?  Pinot at Pines?  Living Sea libations?

That bit of knuckleheadedness lost by a vote of 5-1, with Smith casting the only “yea” vote.   Smith also moved to have the Whole Foods site plan reduced from a 38,000 square foot store to a 20,000 square foot one, but that motion failed to even earn a second.

Ald. Marc Mazzuca (6th) let his freak flag fly, too, proposing the limiting of any Whole Foods boozer to 16 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine per day.  We can only hope his motion was an attempt at satirical improv, because not only would such a standard be pretty darn silly but it would be practically unenforceable.  Fortunately, that motion also failed, by a vote of 4-2 (Mazzuca and Smith voting “yea”). 

At one point, resident George Johnson asked:  “Do shoppers need to be liquored up to go to Whole Foods?”

We’re not sure of that, George – but a double scotch on the rocks sure might make Council meetings like these easier to endure.

To read or post comments, click on title.

19 comments so far

Those people who object to WF have every right to voice their objections, and the council and Mayor are obligated to listed.

However, the idea that our elected officials, or anyone else for that matter, should give an ounce of credence to this groups arguments is a complete joke!!!!

As a parent, I can understand concern for our children, but there has to be some sort of logic behind onces objections. First with the traffic argument and now (for the reasons you point out) with the alcohol argument, they have not presented anything worth considering.

If their fears really are about traffic and drunk drivers, perhaps they should consider moving because even if WF were to go away, those risks still exist. Touhy is a very dangerous street and has been for as long as I have driven it. There are plenty of places in PR where one can have a beer with lunch and places just over the border in Edison Park where one can have a triple vodka if so desired.

WF has absolutely no effect on these concerns.

EDITOR’S NOTE: But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good phobia.

As an aside, how about at the next COW meeting someone show up and suggest that all restaurants/businesses be required to comply with this newly approved amendment.

Is a beer with your WF chicken salad sandwich somehow more dangerous than a beer with your Chipotle Burrito????

What a joke!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t give them any ideas!

Tell me about it. I read the two online newspaper accounts of Monday night’s shenanigans with anger and embarrassment. The sanctimoniousness and disingenuousness coming from these NIMBYs is unbelievable. They are indeed entitled to their opposition to the development but to shamelessly latch onto any doom-and-gloom scenario they can come up with is kind of insulting.

Somehow I have a feeling these folks, despite their purported concern “for the kids,” have never attended a meeting of the various groups and task forces formed to address the very real problem of underage drinking that exists in Park Ridge (and everywhere, for that matter). I’m sorry but pre-emptively blaming a grocery store for exacerbating the problem is frankly, crazy.

It is also insulting and embarrassing that City Council members actually indulge these theatrics rather than shutting them down more decisively. It does sound as if Dan Knight made some reasonable points. Kudos to him.

As for DiPietro, I’m disgusted. Here’s a question: Is there still an opportunity for either WF or the council to propose that the original, less restrictive license be granted? Like you said, every other place in town and in Edison Park is selling/serving liquor much earlier than 5:00. Why should WF be the only one subject to these arbitrary, ridiculous restrictions?

EDITOR’S NOTE: DiPietro’s amended Class M license still has to pass one more reading, so it’s not yet final. And even after it becomes “final,” it’s still subject to reconsideration on motion by someone who voted for it; and still subject to mayoral veto. But given the way DiPietro’s faux-amendment gamed the process – and given the sometimes vague and non-committal way some of the aldermen addressed the licensing hours issue – it’s hard to tell whether there would be enough votes to reverse what just passed.

Whether Mayor Schmidt will veto this Class M ordinance remains to be seen. But that gives us an opportunity to ask: “What Would Ryles Do?” Does declared mayoral candidate Larry Ryles have any thoughts on this issue he wants to share with the people he wants to represent?

Actually, while it can be painful to hear bare opinions and conclusions passed off as fact, or to hear the same points made again and again, we think the more the opponents of the Class M license talked, the more they exposed the flaws in their viewpoint. Check out the video and see/listen for yourself.

Most of what I’ve heard as demonstrations about being “unfriendly” to business has to so with exactly this type of stuff, unclear policy shifting with the wind. Businesses need clear rules, whatever they are, so they can make predictions and plans about how and when their income will come in. If the regulatory goal line keeps moving it adds unacceptable risk. Even as a resident I have geared conflicting answers from city hall about home improvements.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s the problem when elected officials have no clear sense of, or no real interest in, over-arching public policy – and prefer to deal with issues on a one-off, “what feels good today” basis.

For example, we’ve been watching Rich DiPietro’s performanc on the Council for almost 18 years and we still can’t identify any single over-arching public policy principle that informs his voting. He just seems to be a collection of one-off votes: one day he’s concerned about taxes, the next day he’s virtually oblivious to the tax consequences of what he’s voting for.

Restricting the hours Whole Foods can serve alcohol to from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m. doesn’t seem to make any sense, even though I am thinking about it only from a practical standpoint. I still do not understand why our grocery stores have to stop selling alcohol at 10:00 p.m. when the store itself is open hours later.

Some people in this town seem to be conflicted over the sale of alcohol that borders on schizophrenia, but I see no reason to indulge them their mental illness.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nor do we.

11:01:

What you fail to see is that organic groceries stores selling beer and wine before 5PM and after 10PM is simply unacceptable in a bedroom community!!!!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Guess we need to keep a closer eye on the drinking habits of those organic grocery shopper.

It’s amazing how Park Ridge’s own version of “Aunt Bee and the ladies Temperance Society” assemble and step in from time to time.. They MUST be doing us a favor by protecting us (And the kids) from the likes of Otis and evil establishments. Has anyone been to the Whole foods in Sauganash and seen the debauchery happening over there? I mean, people can barely get down the aisles because everyone is so DRUNK! It’s INSANE.

Thank you St. Paul parents for keeping our town safe.

NO BEER FOR YOU!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Drinking demon rum surrounded by organic produce and hormone-free veal has a strange effect on some people.

11:27. Funny. What else is unacceptable in a bedroom community? Additional park space on the site of a now-defunct youth social services campus?

EDITOR’S NOTE: And $16 million of bonded debt for approx. 11 acres of new park land relates to the drinking beer and wine in a Whole Foods Market how, exactly?

PW @2:37: It only relates in that it’s a divisive project. Apologies for going off topic.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A “divisive project”? C’mon, this is just a minor disagreement. If every disagreement is “divisive,” we’ve got big problems.

Give me an f…ing break. Less than 2 miles from Whole Foods will be are bars in Edison Park. There is more of a chance that a drunk driver is going to come from there than from the overpriced Whole Foods store. This is the stupid season.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unfortunately, when it comes to local government, stupidity isn’t seasonal.

Hey! I know! Let WF sell all the booze they want, 24/7, and use the sales tax revenue to pay off the first $16 million for those 11 acres!

THEN when the costs go well beyond $16 million, plus annual operating expenses and upkeep, we can just raise property taxes a little more.

Everyone wins!

EDITOR’S NOTE: C’mon, FWT, you know better than that! You’re mixing two separate governmental bodies. Each one of them can screw up enough on their own without synergy.

“It’s amazing how Park Ridge’s own version of “Aunt Bee and the ladies Temperance Society” assemble and step in from time to time.”

It would be amusing if this were the case but I think these people were using underage drinking simply as an excuse to somehow try to thwart Whole Foods’ plans to come to PR. It isn’t about the underage drinking, it’s about not them not wanting any retailer of any kind in their previously vacant backyards. To feign concern, first about traffic, then about drinking, is pretty obnoxious.

EDITOR’S NOTE: You’re probably right. But even it you’re not, unless these folks want a “dry” Park Ridge, we already have laws on the books that are supposed to prevent underage drinking.

Let’s keep in mind that this Class M license for WF is a new type of liquor license. If issued it will be the first and only one for the time being. And, right or wrong, it was initiated and drafted by WF. The difference between what they originally asked for and seemed to be headed for is pretty dramatic. So, what I am getting at is that the hours of operation is/was a legitimate discussion. We may not like all aspects of where it seems to be headed but the discussion of the basic content of the license was a necessity.

That said, the rest of the matter boarders on insanity. The hysteria of the SPC folks and the nears neighbors is almost laughable. Smith’s attempt to amend the deal so essentially any business in PR could serve for open consumption was an insult to the other Aldermen and everyone in the room that night. I’d say he should be ashamed but he obviously has no shame. Mazzuca attempting to limit ounces of beer and wine consumed per day was a real disappointment. Really Marc? This is what we can expect in a new four years from you?

In the end this probably ends up ok as nobody is 100% happy. But geez-o-man getting it done, assuming it does, was sure a trip.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Heifer dust! Let’s keep in mind that the Class M license language, as proposed by Whole Foods, would have permitted on-premises alcohol consumption from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., like any standard B-2 liquor license holder. Therefore, there was nothing at all “pretty dramatic” about those hours.

1:13:
Your first paragraph has me baffle but the last one takes the cake. “…..probably ends up ok”……what?!?!?!?!?!

Please tell me how on earth it is OK that WF is required to have a different liscense and follow different rules and standards than an establishment about 2 blocks down the street??? Give me one single reason why they are being treated differently and how this “reason” should be applied in future cases.

You have to be kidding me!

Heifer dust yourself. Any other grocery stores have B2 licenses? I’m thinking not. And if you look at the totality of what WF originally asked for and what they may end up with the difference is pretty great…maybe “dramatic” is too strong a word.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stick with the issue: hours. Frankly, we don’t care whether they Whole Foods sells liquor by the glass or not. But if they’re going to be allowed to do it, then restricting their hours compared to other places serving liquor by the glass within blocks of Whole Foods is stupid and unsound public policy.

Unsound policy is to let the tail wag the dog. We have existing grocery stores that preexisted the coming of another with no vision from the past in planning that afforded a M Class license until now. The new development was zoned for a grocery store not a bar. Amazing, how WF, a very reputable corp never disclosed their real plans for this store. Furthurmore, at the time of rezoning, there was no intellectual curiosity from our city officials. I’m so greatful that our city has such a great strategic business plan that will isolate our suffering primary TIF business district even more with a destination store in a residential area. “Cheers”, everyone.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Okay, so what’s really the issue here? That the City as a whole is somehow worse off having an obsolete empty office building complex in “a residential area” replaced with a brand new supermarket? That a supermarket will also serve alcohol? That it will compete with Trader Joe’s 3 blocks away?

The only “strategic business plan” Park Ridge has had in the past 20 years is the Uptown TIF – and so far it’s been a financial black hole. But we’re sure open to any other suggestions.

Anyone who is familiar with Whole Foods knows they serve food, and like retaurants that serve food, they also offer liquor. There was no bait and switch, as Mr. Meyer is implying.

4:18:

BINGO!!!!! His comment related to “grocery store, not a bar” show his true colors on this issue.

Note: Two Buck Chuck has been 3 bucks for quite a while now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The folks we were writing about laid in their supplies at our TJ’s grand opening.



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