Man to fight Cape Girardeau City Council's denial of liquor license

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shah Faisal thought he had done everything right.

After Isle of Capri bought his Cape Mart convenience store at the corner of Mason and Main streets for land to build its new casino, he searched for a different location to build a business.

He found one at 238 N. Fountain St. He shelled out $74,000 for the property and spent another $20,000 for a walk-in cooler, $2,000 for signs, paid the moving expenses and another $5,000 for some electrical work.

In addition to typical convenience store fare like milk, bread and soda, he also planned on selling prepackaged alcohol, just as he had at his old store. He didn't think it would be a problem. The organic food store that had operated there before, Ganix Market, had sold certain types of alcohol until it closed last June.

Faisal, a 42-year-old native of Bangladesh, applied for a city liquor license, confident that the Cape Girardeau City Council would do for him what it had done for Ganix and approve his request.

Faisal, who also owns convenience stores in Perryville and Scott City, was so confident, he didn't go to the council meeting Monday night. He left with his wife to go to St. Louis.

But when he got back Tuesday, he learned the council had denied his request, based on differences between his business and Ganix and neighborhood opposition that a "liquor store" would increase crime, littering, drug activity and unwanted traffic.

That left Faisal livid.

"That's not fair to me," he said. "It would be a convenience store, not a liquor store. I don't know if someone has a grudge against me or not. But I'm definitely going to contact my lawyer and reapply. I don't think they can just do that."

The council felt differently.

At the meeting Monday, the council approved two other liquor licenses and then, after hearing from residents who live near the Fountain Street store, no council member made a motion on Faisal's request, effectively killing his request without even a vote.

Council members defended their decision Tuesday, saying the property is in an area zoned for mixed uses that is primarily for single-family homes but does allow some commercial uses with a special-use permit. That made Ganix, and now Faisal's store, a nonconforming use. The city's zoning ordinances say commercial uses in these areas are not a guaranteed "right of use," like it is in a strictly commercial zone.

And while the property's special-use permit does carry over for nine months after it is vacated -- Faisal made it just under the wire -- and the city police chief recommended the request be approved, the council effectively denied it.

Lt. Barry Hovis handles liquor license investigations for the Cape Girardeau Police Department. He investigated Faisal's operation of Cape Mart on Mason Street and said there was only one violation in the last 12 months, when a worker there sold alcohol to a minor. But Hovis characterized that as a "minor infraction" and did not warrant a recommendation to deny his request at the new location.

A background check of Faisal uncovered no violations, Hovis said.

"There were no incidents in his past that caused me any alarm," Hovis said.

Council members said Tuesday said they did not consider the request a "ministerial act," which basically means they did not feel they were required to grant the license if they did not feel it was appropriate for the neighborhood.

"I do not feel that it was," council member Mark Lanzotti said. "But in the end, I hope we find a way to make this work. I don't want the building to sit empty, but I don't want it to be a full-on bars-on-the-window liquor store."

Mayor Harry Rediger agreed. He said it would have been helpful if Faisal had attended the meeting. Rediger's understanding is that Ganix sold specialty wines and beer, but mostly sold organic food. The voices of the residents also carried a lot of weight with him.

"The residents were pretty outspoken in their opposition to it," Rediger said. "The previous business did have a liquor license; the character of the operation was going to change substantially. But we as a council pay pretty close attention to neighborhood comments."

And some of the neighbors were vocal about not wanting it. Bryan Langlois, whose family owns the nearby Bellevue Bed and Breakfast, said more than 10 residents oppose the new business.

"We are in a historic downtown neighborhood," he said. "Stores that sell packaged liquor do not fit into that model. We believe a business like his will bring crime, lots more litter and a lot more noise. This neighborhood is not the type of place for that type of business."

Faisal said he's not giving up, however. He believes other residents in the neighborhood support his store. He's already bought 12 security cameras to discourage crime, but he said he needs a liquor license to make a real go of it, he said.

"I don't understand not giving me a liquor license because a few people oppose it," he said. "What they are saying is a mischaracterization of what I'm trying to do. I just don't get it."


Pertinent address:

238 N. Fountain St., Cape Girardeau, MO

102 Mason St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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