By Martha Stoffel
O’FALLON – The O’Fallon City Council was divided but ultimately gave first round approval to a new business, Mirage Liquor and Spirits, located on the west end of town in building previously occupied by Creve Coeur Camera.
The applicant, Davuthan Kilic, is requesting the property be rezoned to allow for packaged liquor sales. Residents and business owners near the proposed business location, 2020 West Highway 50, spoke against the rezoning citing concerns for safety, density of alcohol sales at that intersection and potential decline in property value. The property is located at the intersection of West Highway 50 and Old Collinsville Road. Currently a Huck’s convenience store operates on the northwest corner of the intersection, with a Motomart to be built on the southwest corner.
Dr. Anne Bollmeier operates the neighboring dental office, Bollmeier Dental, and is concerned about increased crime and shared research that included a study from Johns Hopkins University that concluded, “Alcohol outlets that sell for off-premise alcohol consumption have a stronger association of incidences with violent crime, including homicides, aggravated sexual assaults and robbery.”
Bollmeier is particularly concerned about the safety of her staff.
“I worry about letting my staff leave at night already with some of what’s going on in that area, and now I feel like this would definitely increase that. I have a lot of younger women working with me and for me, and I try and make sure they don’t even leave alone and it’s sad to me that have to even say that to my staff,” said Bollmeier.
A petition signed by 128 residents within the notification buffer zone of the property was presented to the council by Dr. James Bollmeier.
“The 128 represent the residents in the area, and I think we need to take them into consideration,” said James Bollmeier.
Property owner Brad McMillin addressed the council saying, “at the end of the day we’re making a lot of assumptions that it’s automatically going to cause trouble.” McMillin indicated he wants a decent business there and has talked with the business owner about everything from the aesthetics of the property, to security, lighting, and will work with the city regarding landscaping and any fencing that needs to be done.
“The business owner doesn’t want any loitering going on there, and he’s going to keep decent hours,” said McMillin. The proposed business hours have the store opening at 10 a.m. each day, closing at 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on the weekend.
McMillin shared with council that the business owner has talked about inviting the O’Fallon Police Department to have a substation at the business if they’d like. Regarding the assumption of increased crime, McMillin said “I’m not disputing the fact that things happen in this world, but you can’t automatically penalize a business that wants to come in the door.”
Council voted to approve the rezoning 8-5 after much discussion. Aldermen Jerry Albrecht, John Drolet, Ned Drolet, Bob Kueker and Gwen Randolph voted against the proposal and Alderman Chris Monroe was absent.
Ward 5 Alderwoman Gwen Randolph shared research with the council regarding the effects of alcohol on the body, specifically the central nervous system, and her take from a community health and wellness perspective. Prior to the vote she commented additionally saying, “this is my part of town, I live in the community. I do not want to see a liquor store in my community.”
Matthew Gilreath, Ward 3 Alderman commented “The original intent (of the property) was a 7-Eleven which sells packaged goods, so we’re not going off the beaten path here, we’re putting back something that was the original intent.” Gilreath also suggested when properties sit abandoned and they’re not taken care of, that also creates crime. He felt the proposed business meets or exceeds the ordinance requirements and would be returning the property to its original intent.
Ward 4 Alderman John Drolet began his comments by recognizing the investments and contributions made into the city by McMillin and the Bollmeiers. He indicated a week ago he was in favor of this, but has had time to reflect and give thought as a business owner in town with a vacant building next door currently.
“I thought, ‘Would I want a liquor store in a building next to mine,’ and I would not,” Drolet said. In a later comment, Drolet indicated that the residents and businesses in that area are opposed to this. “I think you have to listen to the people that are there, and not make decisions that ‘we know best.’ Maybe we don’t know best.”
Some of the comments by residents and aldermen pointed toward whether or not a high-end liquor store would be successful on that end of town and with two gas stations across the intersection. Ward 7 Alderman David Cozad commented prior to the vote that it’s not his job to tell a business owner whether or not their business plan will work, but to determine if it fits what the city’s trying to do. Cozad also stated, “I agree that a building that is occupied is much better than a building that is sitting vacant.”
Ward 2 Alderman Bob Kueker expressed shared concerns with the current residents and neighbors, as well as those of the planning commission. “I don’t like denying businesses to O’Fallon, but I think there are other priorities in this location,” said Kueker.
The proposed rezoning ordinance will appear for second reading at the community development committee meeting on March 11 and for final approval before City Council on March 18.