Written by Phil Cerroni
By Amanda Casanova
The City Council voted on Nov. 8 to grant a variance to a Kroger site near a school that would allow the grocery store to sell beer and wine.
The exception for the 515 S. MacArthur Blvd. Kroger store lifts a prohibition that bars selling alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a public or private school. The Kroger store’s property line stands within 240 feet of Haley Elementary School’s property line. The store, however, is actually about 700 feet from the nearest school building, according to city staff.
City council members voted 6-3 for the variance with Mayor Beth Van Duyne, Roy Santoscoy, Dennis Webb, Rose Cannaday, Brad LaMorgese and Gerald Farris for the exception. Council members Michael Gallaway, Thomas Spink and Joe Putnam voted against.
Under the agreement, new landscaping and improvements to the store are proposed along MacArthur Boulevard and Sixth Street. Updates will total about $1.4 million.
“This store is not as competitive as other stores in the city of Irving, and it’s not keeping pace with our other stores,” said Gary Huddleston, consumer affairs director for Kroger stores. “Many customers have told us they want the convenience of purchasing beer and wine. Our store can provide a safer outlet to purchase alcohol than others in the area.”
City Council members listened to more than an hour of public input, both for and against the variance. Among concerns were worries that other stores in the Heritage District, where the Kroger store is located, would also seek variances to put alcohol on their shelves and thus boost their sales.
But the chief worry was the store’s location near the school. School board members did not meet to discuss issuing a resolution to take a side on the issue. None attended the Nov. 8 meeting.
“This case is dependent on the safety of the kids,” Van Duyne said. “Neither tonight nor at the planning and zoning meeting or back in 2011 or 2009 have we seen parents of kids who go to that school come here to talk about this. I’m hearing from a lot of people but not one parent of a student who goes there.
“If this was a high school, I could see the concern of selling alcohol to minors, but this is an elementary school. I think if a 10-year-old walks in to buy a pack a beer, someone’s going to notice.”
But Gallaway said he couldn’t support the change.
“I have to look at whether approving this zoning case is going to be beneficial, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that it’s not going to be beneficial for the city,” he said.
Kroger will still have to apply for a Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission license and construction on the new improvement could start after the holidays. The store will gain final approval for the license from the city after construction starts.
In October, the planning and zoning commission voted in favor of the variance, adding a stipulation that alcoholic beverages could only be displayed and stored inside the main store building.
In 2008, city staff denied Kroger’s application for a permit to sell wine and beer. Two years later, Kroger applied again for the permit, this time promising landscaping improvements. While staff recommended approval, City Council denied the application.
The third application was received on Aug. 8.
The City Council will discuss changing its policy on alcohol sales in restaurants at an upcoming Council meeting.
The current city ordinance sets a ratio of 60/40 for food/alcoholic beverage sales at restaurants, but the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce and area businesses are asking that the ratio be reversed or changed.
Critics have said changing the ration to favor alcohol sales could impact how the community is viewed.
The Council will consider the change at a later date.