City grants exception for incoming market to sell alcohol next to school

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) A small controversy that was brewing over alcohol sales near a Waco school, appears to have been tapped-out.

(Photo by Rissa Shaw)

Per city ordinance, alcohol sales aren’t allowed within 300 feet of a school in Waco.

However, an exception has been made in hopes of revitalizing a neighborhood in the heart of the city.

“That location, at one time, was a successful grocery store that served that area that desperately needed a grocery store,” said City of Waco spokesman Larry Holze. “It’s going to strengthen, I think, the ability for that neighborhood to start thriving again like it once was in the 50s 60s and 70s."

At the request of Poco Bueno Supermercado, on Tuesday night city council members voted unanimously in favor of an alcohol distance variance, allowing the Hispanic-oriented grocery store to sell alcohol.

"When this opportunity came along they saw the need for possibly changing the rule they have about allowing somebody to sell off-premises alcohol, much like any of the other grocery stores in our city,” said Holze about leveling the playing field.

The supermarket property is about 60 feet away from Provident Elementary School.

Holze said the important thing to note was the alcohol will have to be consumed off-premises.

"The school has expressed concern, and certainly they have every reason to be,” said Holze. “It's a little bit close, but since it's off-premises consumption and not a bar, it would be something to spawn the economic development necessary to sustain that really old neighborhood and make it another thriving, exciting neighborhood to be in."

Although Holze said some parents have expressed concerns, officials with the Waco Independent School District agree with the city in that it will spur development in the area, and they welcome the new neighbors.

"Certainly the addition of, or the return of this building to its previous use as a supermarket adds options and some convenience for families in the neighborhood as well as for our staff across the street at the campus,” said Kyle DeBeer, Asst. Superintendent for Communications and Community Engagement for Waco ISD. “I think there are some potential benefits to come from this, and we aren't concerned about student safety as a result of the exemption."

DeBeer said police are aware and would remain vigilant about monitoring the area.

“As our police department does all across the district, the Waco ISD officers will continue to enforce school zones around Provident Heights Elementary to make sure that students can travel safety to and from school,” said DeBeer.

This will be at least the fourth Hispanic-focused grocery store to occupy the building at 1320 N. 25th St. since 2002; at least one of those stores, Fiesta Mart, was allowed to sell alcohol.

During the years the location was Super Plaza, it made the news for catching fire, and for a “guerrilla style” robbery and attempted kidnapping in 2012.

Susan Seale, an agent with A-TX Licensing Service representing Asifali “Mike” Karowalia with Silver Star Distributions, LLC which is doing business as Poco Loco Supermercado, said having the store move in was a “win-win.”

“When they stripped the inside of the building, there was obvious evidence it was frequented by the homeless and drug users and that kind of activity, so this will fill the large vacant building in a way that’s positive for the neighborhood,” said Seale. "I think it will be very good for the surrounding community.”

She said it would also bring jobs.

“I think that there will be a lot of employment opportunities that will be opened up, this will bring a local grocery store where they can get their fresh fruits and vegetables without having to take a bus or a taxi.” said Seale.

The property was purchased by Daniel G Kamin Waco, LLC out of Pittsburgh, PA in 2007; at present day, the almost three-acre property has a value of more than $998,000.

Holze said varying from a city ordinance was “a little unusual” for the council, but he said it showed they were doing the right thing by helping a new business stick around.

"We’re trying to do anything we can to incentivize success in that area,” said Holze.

The city recently purchased the 25th Street Theatre nearby with plans to turn it into a Fire Station and community room.