Walmart denied a liquor license for controversial El Con location

2013-07-12T00:00:00Z Walmart denied a liquor license for controversial El Con locationDarren DaRonco Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Shoppers won't be able to pick up beer or wine at the midtown El Con Mall Walmart when it opens this fall.

The Arizona State Liquor Board voted unanimously late Thursday to deny a liquor license to the retail giant after an eight-hour public hearing.

Board members listed an undue disruption to the neighborhoods surrounding the mall, at 3601 E. Broadway, and long hours of sale as some of the reasons they rejected the license.

The city's attorney, Stacy Stauffer, said Walmart failed to demonstrate how a liquor license would fit the location or how the store would ensure alcohol wouldn't be misused on its premises. "Walmart wholly failed to prove its case," Stauffer said.

Walmart officials would not comment on the decision.

About 80 midtown residents packed the hearing, which began at 1 p.m. and ended with the vote about 9 p.m. Residents who stayed until the end were elated.

"I'm really pleased with the decision," said Scott Neely, a Colonia Solana resident. "They had a tough decision but they made the right choice."

Last March, the City Council recommended denying Walmart a liquor license after hearing from neighbors who feared late-night boozing from unsavory characters would wreak havoc on their quality of life.

But the liquor board has the final say.

Witnesses with charts

Thursday's hearing featured a parade of witnesses with charts explaining why or why not Walmart should be allowed a license.

Talk ranged from whether beer and wine sold at Walmart leads to an increase in crime for a neighborhood, to whether the city properly zoned the building.

"Protesting a liquor license isn't another way of getting around a zoning problem," said liquor board board chairman J.D. Ghelfi. "It happens a lot in Tucson. Zoning fails so the fall back … (is) it gets kicked to the liquor board as a sort of de facto stopgap to the zoning problem. We're just not a zoning board."

In the end, the board decided Walmart wasn't convincing.

Board member Vikki Scarafiotti said the high volume of protests coupled with an incompatible location caused her to oppose the license.

An attorney for Walmart said all the company wanted was to be treated like everyone else and be allowed to sell alcohol in an area where other establishments already offer it.

"If this location isn't appropriate, then there may not be a location in Tucson that is appropriate for a liquor license," the attorney, Clare Abel, told the board.

Abel said neighbors' outrage over the license proposal was misplaced. Past litigation and other controversies surrounding the El Con Walmart may still infuriate many neighbors, but that has no bearing on whether Walmart is qualified to sell beer and wine, Abel said.

Stauffer, the city's attorney, said even though the existing Target store at El Con has a liquor license, its case differed dramatically from Walmart's.

Target kept neighbors in the loop from the initial design phase until the end, which is why neighbors never opposed its license, Stauffer said. In Walmart's case, neighbors and the company clashed from the beginning.

Evidence of the lingering enmity residents have toward the giant retailer was prevalent throughout the hearing.

El Encanto resident Chris Tanz said data show Walmarts breed crime. Alcohol sales would only exacerbate the problems neighbors in the tight-knit communities surrounding the retailer will face, she said.

Tanz said neighbors want only to preserve what they have. "People deserve to live a peaceful life," she said.

Gricelda Eades, treasurer of the Colonia Solana Homeowners Association, said the presence of an establishment that can sell alcohol 20 hours a day, seven days a week, would leave people who use nearby Reid Park at night for exercise or sports vulnerable to violent crime.

The liquor license would have created "a whole host of problems," Eades said.

Unusual hearing

Thursday's hearing was something of a rare event since it was held in Tucson at City Hall. Most meetings take place in Phoenix.

But City Councilman Steve Kozachik said meetings should be held in Tucson when the issues involve Southern Arizona licenses.

"This turnout should send a message to the state board that there's validity to holding these hearings in Tucson," Kozachik said. "It's about having your voice heard. … This level of detail provided by the residents would not have happened if this was held in Phoenix."

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at ddaronco@azstarnet.com or 573-4243.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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