Atwood BP station wants to sell beer, neighbors say prior problems not yet solved
City officials are weighing issues of fairness regarding a business owner’s right to sell beer against neighbor’s objections due to a history of problems on the property and a present day problem of public intoxication at a nearby park. The proprietor, Lake Management, LLC., runs the BP Gas Station at 2801 Atwood Avenue and has managed to have a conditional use restriction regarding alcohol lifted, but faces a tougher road at the Alcohol Licensing Review Committee.
In 2005, it was known as the Clark station and was home to occasional sketchy activity. There were periodic armed robberies, occasional drug activity and other recurring incidents that began to affect the residential properties nearby. Late that year, Murthy Polasa and Kuldip Singh Mavi, of M & J Petroleum, LLC., purchased the property and proposed tearing down the structure and building a new convenience store along with the gas station under the BP Brand.
The new store was a hard sell to the neighborhood, especially to the immediate neighbors. After numerous neighborhood meetings the project was allowed to go forward with promises from Polasa and Mavi of no alcohol sales and that the atmosphere at the property would improve. Judy Olson, the District 6 Alder at the time, lobbied the Plan Commission to place a conditional use restriction on the property that no alcohol sales would be allowed.
Since that time the various owners of the property have attempted to revisit the question of selling beer and have been rejected by the neighborhood, although residents have been very evenly divided on the issue each time.
Who owns the property and the business has been a little bit confusing since it has experienced several ownership changes since Polaso and Mavi purchased it in 2005. M & J Petroleum sold the property to Chozom, LLC., in 2009 and then JAK, LLC., purchased it this past August. Chozom and JAK are both registered to Mavi. The one constant is that Mavi has owned at least a piece of that corner since his original purchase in 2005.
Lake Management is listed as the operator for the business on its application to the ALRC with Shariff Syed as the registered agent, and Mavi listed as a member. Syed, who runs the station, says that things have been cleaned up and that he wants a permit to sell beer, especially since several nearby establishments are allowed to sell alcohol.
In a review of emails exchanged by members of the Schenk Atwood Starkweather Yahara Neighborhood Association (SASYNA), provided by resident Dan Melton, showed that periodically Mavi and other associates would petition the neighborhood to support a license. In an early 2008 meeting, Mavi said Polasa was no longer a partner in the business and that he [Polasa] misrepresented to him what conditions they agreed to with the neighborhood that allowed the city approvals for the new store in 2006.
While many in the area wondered what all the fuss was over selling beer, the immediate neighbors contend that the 2006 agreement was a negotiation, and that Mavi and Polasa went into the situation with open eyes. Many of the neighbors were not interested in reopening an agreement they had so laboriously completed only two years prior. That sentiment seems to remain today.
In the Beer Zone
The continued neighborhood objection comes, in part, from complaints about public intoxication in Wirth Court Park along St. Paul Avenue, three to four blocks north across the tracks from the Goodman Community Center. Neighbors say public intoxication is a continual problem with those persons sometimes intimidating others who use the park for recreation.
Current District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel pointed out recently in testimony before City committees that some see it as a class issue: The neighborhood is fine with designer beers being allowed to be sold from Next Door Brewing, Stalzy’s Deli, and Glass Nickel Pizza, but somehow drawing the line at convenience store beer.
One contrast between alcohol dispensed from the newly opened Next Door Brewing or Glass Nickel Pizza is that all drinks are dispensed inside and their consumption is monitored. The BP Station would be permitted to sell alcohol that can be transported off the property and the neighborhood says will continue to perpetuate the intoxication problem. Syed said before a recent ALRC meeting that he would be fine with selling not single serve containers if the ALRC specified that condition in the license.
Recently, Shariff Syed went before two city committees in his quest to be allowed to sell alcohol out of his store. His first stop was before the Plan Commission on September 16 to request that the conditional use restriction be lifted. District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel, who objected to the request when testifying before the commission, said that the neighborhood was still very split on the issue.
No residents from the neighborhood or SASYNA testified at the Plan Commission. However, a July 15, 2013 letter from SASYNA, addressed to the ALRC, was part of the official public comments that accompanied the BP Gas Station agenda item.
Commission members in their deliberations grappled with the concerns of the neighborhood versus the fairness issue of this one business not being allowed to sell alcohol. The Commission was convinced that the issues that precipitated the original conditional use restriction had been sufficiently addressed and felt that the alcohol sales issue was under the purview of the Alcohol License Review Committee.
The commission voted to lift the conditional use permit.
Two nights later Shariff Syed was before the ALRC to plead his case but was up against stiffer opposition due the same SASYNA letter submitted to the committee opposing the license application. Rummel again testified that she was opposed to the license and Syed was asked by Alder Lisa Subeck about problems with his other alcohol licenses tied to two liquor stores he operates on the south side. Syed owns West Badger Liquor and Madison Bazzar. He also operated a Mobil station in Janesville that offered beer and liquor.
Shariff Syed responded that he had to add security cameras and fencing but that was it. He added that in the case of his BP business, he should be given a chance to prove that things have changed and that the ALRC can revoke the license later if he was proven wrong.
Marsha Rummel asked for a one month delay on any action so that neighbors have a chance to respond due to the recency of the Plan Commission ruling arguing that residents may not have and enough time to catch up to the information.
“Monday something changed that people were taking for granted…nobody’s here today and you can decide what that means. Maybe it means people don’t care, maybe it means people haven’t caught up to the fact that this has changed.” Rummel said.
While she noted that the Plan Commission ruling was announced on the SASYNA email listserv, she wanted time to send a neighborhood mailer on the issue. She also reminded the committee that the applicant that preceded BP Gas Station on the meeting agenda was asked by the ALRC to present a business plan and hoped that Lake Management’s application would receive similar scrutiny.
“You asked the last applicant for a business plan…I just want to make sure we have the same diligence for a gas station.” Rummel said.
The ALRC voted to table the application until the October meeting.
Editor’s Note: Unofficial Willy Street Blog Stringer Dan Melton, observing both meetings on the Madison City Channel, took very detailed notes on what was said. We have posted those notes below.
Plan Commission (9/16/2013)
Applicant Shariff Syed, 5787 Auburn Drive, Fitchburg — with his brother Nadeem Syed — is one of the partners who own the Atwood BP gas station. He is asking Plan Commission to remove the No Alcohol Sales land use restriction originally placed on the property in 2006–when the convenience store was built. Syed: I just want to explain the whole situation. It used to be a dark, dingy Clark gas station. There were robberies. The neighbors had concerns because employees were getting robbed. The problem has been rectified. Everybody else gets to sell beer, the PDQ’s, the Kwik Trips. The SASY Neighborhood was opposed to it (selling beer there). I like you folks to give me a chance. Some said it’s close to a school. Well, Glass Nickel is closer to the school than me–and they sell beer. A block up the street from me there’s Stalzy’s; they sell beer. Then a little further up the street there’s even a new brewery right across the street from the church. …and I have a problem getting a Beer license? Things have changed in that area since the restriction was first placed on there. Things on Atwood are getting better. I ask you to give me a chance, so other people can get what they want too.
Marquette Street neighbor Angelo Castillo: I am strongly opposed to removing the restriction. There were armed robberies. The Neighborhood worked very hard to to get this restriction in. There’s really nothing unfair about this. Mr. Syed is an astute businessman. He purchased the property knowing the restriction was in place. If we have problems at this location again, it might hurt some of those new businesses on Atwood. Wirth Court Park has had continuing problems with chronic alcoholics using the park to do their drinking. They intimidate the parents and families out of the park. The chronic alcoholics are still there — the six-packs of Milwaukee’s Best. The neighbors call the Police; the Police say they want us to call. I’m just an individual citizen; No, I’m not speaking for the Neighborhood Association.
Commission Chair Ken Opin: A letter from the SASY Neighborhood Association was put at our places tonight. They’re at your places now.
District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel: The property is no longer a blight. The neighbors have remained divided about this. There still remains about a 50–50 split — those who want the restriction kept in place, and those who are OK with letting them go ahead and sell beer. This is the third time as Alder I’ve sat through this. It goes back and forth. There’s the issue of cheap beer–or modestly-priced beer– vs.more pricey beer — as may be available at Stalzy’s.
I’m going to ask you to keep the land use restriction in place. There’s the issue of chronic alcoholics — some individuals have problems with alcohol use — and access to parks, as Mr. Castillo brought up. It’s hard. I guess I don’t want to make it easier to obtain cheap beer. SASY has sent in a letter. I don’t think this condition should be lifted. [Madison Police] Captain Schauf talked to the applicants. There’s a complex history to it.
District 8 Alder [Plan Commission Member] Scott Resnick: I’m struggling with the fairness question.
Rummel: Next Door Brewing got a lot of discussion. That’s a fundamentally different situation. That’s a social situation, you sit and talk, over a period of time, people there are monitoring you [vs. Stopping to pick up a six-pack at a convenience store]. It has changed on Atwood; there are more licenses now along Atwood. The question is, at some point, a promise was made. A land use condition. The owners made a deal, they made a promise.
Commission Member Tonya Hamilton-Nisbet: There’s a difference between an ALRC policy decision on a new license vs. Plan Commission policy decision on a conditional land use. Typically, it’s ALRC who makes that judgment–who is going to sell beer. I’m not sure why we’re singling out this parcel of land. It would be helpful if there was a Neighborhood document–something formal–that laid out a Neighborhood policy. That would give us more guidance.
Commission Member Michael Heifetz: I’m wondering, At what point is this approvable?
Rummel: A promise is a promise. A promise was made. When you make a promise to a neighborhood, that’s a serious thing. Some of my neighbors feel the Willy Street Co-op made a promise to the Marquette Neighborhood to not have a driveway out onto Jenifer Street. Some of them are still mad about that.
Opin [to Syed]: Sir, How long have you owned this property? Since June? Since June.
Commission Member Mike Rewey: Have we ever put this condition on any other gas station in the City?
Planning Staff Tim Parks: Not that I can recall.
Rewey: It’s a Condtional Use, so we ‘retain our jurisdiction’ over this, correct?
Parks: Yes, that’s correct.
Rewey: So if there were problems at some point in the future, if there were complaints, it could be brought back here–and we could consider putting the condition back on.
Heifetz moves Approval of applicant request to drop the 2006 No Alcohol Sales land use condition.
Commission Member Melissa Berger seconds.
Heifetz: This is a tough one. There’s a significant fairness issue here. If there are troubles in the future related to Beer sales, we can act. It troubles me, the issue that runs through this, that it’s OK to buy expensive craft beer but God Forbid anybody buys cheap beer.
District 7 Alder [Plan Commission Member] Steve King: I will vote No. I’ve already said publicly, I will not support any more liquor licenses anywhere in the City. Not just this location; I won’t support any additional licenses–anywhere.
Berger: I know there are problems with alcohol use, some individuals have a problem with alcohol use, but there are other options–other, maybe more effective responses– to that.
Ald. Resnick: I’m going to vote Yes [to drop the condition]. It does go to the fairness issue. I’m troubled by this, It’s OK to buy craft beer. In [Downtown area], we’ve banned the sale of 40’s at certain stores in my District. I would rather see ALRC and the Police deal with this.
Commission Member Brad Cantrell: I will vote No. It is a land use issue. I’m going to go with the Alder’s and the Neighborhood’s concerns.
Rewey: I’m going to vote Yes. It should be the ALRC that is dealing with this, not us. Though I don’t necessarily agree that beer sales should happen at this location. Let them [ALRC] deal with it.
Opin: Five Aye’s. It passes.
Discussion begins 7:37 p.m.
Applicant Shariff Syed, 5787 Auburn Drive, Fitchburg, one of the partners who owns Atwood BP: I was here last meeting. There was a problem with Plan Commission; they put a No Alcohol Sales restriction on the property [when the convenience store was approved in 2006]. That condition was taken off on Monday. At your last meeting Ald. Verveer said, We have no problem but Plan Commission has to deal with the condition first. They did on Monday. So here I am tonight.
ALRC member Sam Stevenson: Have you communicated with the Neighborhood Association?
Syed: Right up the street, there’s Stalasky’s (Stalzy’s), they can sell beer. Two doors down from Stalasky’s, there’s a new brewery. The Neighborhood Association, one gentleman (Angelo Castillo) had a problem with the Park (chronic alcoholics who use Wirth Court Park). We just want to be treated like every other gas station convenience store that can sell beer. Whatever everyone else is selling, that’s all I want. I’m not asking for special treatment.
City Alcohol Policy Coordinator Mark Woulf: Are you aware of this letter from the SASY Neighborhood Association? Typically, when the Neighborhood Association has a problem, there are conversations back and forth between the Applicant and the Neighborhood Association. Have you had a conversation with the Neighborhood Association since this letter?
Syed: I just got this letter a few days ago. I’ve gone to every meeting. On Monday the Plan Commission said, ALRC decides everything. I have two liquor licenses right now on South Park Street. I had a liquor license at Deb & Lola’s. I have been responsible.
Woulf: It’s very difficult for us when there’s a letter from the Neighborhood Association opposing an application. Was the Neighborhood Association present at Plan Commission Monday?
ALRC member District 5 Ald. Shiva Bidar-Sielaff: I know we put some restrictions on a license for the 7-11 on University Avenue in my District. I wonder if the Clerk could look up that license–and read to us exactly what those conditions say? Mr. Syed, there are some gas stations that are allowed to sell beer, some are not; some have specific restrictions. I know we specifically put a restriction on the 7-11 license that they can not sell single servings.
ALRC member District 1 Ald. Lisa Subeck: Mr. Syed, I’m wondering if, both currently and in the past, you’ve ever had problems with some of your other licenses. I think I remember seeing news accounts, there was tension about renewing some of your licenses?
Syed: Certain things had to be done: A security camera, a fence. It took time. But, no, there is no problem now.
District 6 Alder Marsha Rummel: This situation began with the rebuilding of the [former Clark] gas station. It was somewhat of a contested neighborhood process to get the neighbors’ approval for the new convenience store building. That was before I was elected Alder for the area. Since I was elected, in 2007, this is the third time I’ve been through this process of revisiting this. Every single time, it’s been pretty evenly-divided between those who say, What’s the problem? vs. Those who are opposed. It may be less intense now–than the first two times around–but it still seems pretty evenly-divided. The blighted and dangerous conditions of the former Clark station have been remedied.
Those opposed say, We have enough alcohol outlets on Atwood already. The issues of alcohol use bumping up against residential areas is something I’ve been dealing with on Willy Street and now Atwood. There’s the [BP station’s] proximity to a school [Lowell]. It’s a convenience store; kids go there. You’ve got public intoxication at Wirth Court Park; neighbors unable to use the Park. I had a meeting with neighbors about that–a really intense meeting.
Underlying all this is the basic issue, A business made a promise to the neighborhood. The promise went with the land–not the owner. Now here you’ve got what looks like, Just wait it out. You’ll get your license. If you have a package goods store that sells beer–in proximity to a park, that may be a general public health and safety issue. Nobody’s here today; you can read into that what you will. A story about Plan Commission Monday went out on the listserve but It may be that some neighbors don’t know yet. They might have just assumed the No Alcohol Sales restriction is there. It’s only two days later, after the Plan Commission meeting, maybe they haven’t caught up.
I urge you to reject the license application.
Ald. Bidar-Sielaff: Alder Rummel, I want to get a sense of the Plan Commission on Monday. They knew we [ALRC] were coming, two days later? So there was a sense they were leaving it for us?
Ald. Rummel: It’s obviously a remedied situation [compared to sketchy conditions, robberies, drug deals at former Clark station]. That’s what they [Plan Commission] look at, as far as land use, Is it a detriment to the neighborhood. …So, yes, you might say this was punted…
Ald. Bidar-Sielaff: that’s the word I was looking for. ….What if we add a condition to prohibit sales of single-serve [single bottles, single cans] at this location? …Syed: Yes. Fine. I would be OK with that [No single-serving sales]
Ald. Rummel: You know, I think one reason neighbors don’t show up for meetings like this is they think you’re just going to go ahead and grant the license anyway…
ALRC member Sam Stevenson: I move we refer this to our October meeting. That would give Alder Rummel a little bit more time to allow this to be discussed in the community
ALRC member District 4 Ald. Verveer (to Syed): Would a one-month delay be a hardship to you? Syed: I’ve jumped through every hoop. Every thing you’ve asked of me, I’ve done it. All I’m asking is you give me a chance. If there’s a problem, you can take the license away. Ald. Verveer: Well, (laughs) …I’m sure you realize, it’s a lot harder to pull a license than it is to grant one.
Ald. Rummel: I would appreciate that [one-month delay]. I will have a discussion. I will mail out postcards to the neighbors nearby; I would hope for a good turnout. [Maybe, in that extra month, before your next meeting, we can get a better feel] what the pulse is of the neighborhood.
8:04 p.m. Motion to refer item to October meeting carries.
Update [9/30/2013]: Corrects assertion that Shariff Syed would sell only single serve alcohol containers. Syed told the ALRC he would be fine with a restriction to not serve single serve containers.