Board unanimous in opposition to alcohol permit

Months-long process culminates in neighborhood association’s decisive vote

 

By Jonathan Edwards

 

The Faubourg-St. John Neighborhood Association’s board unanimously voted to oppose letting a would-be convenience store sell alcohol in the neighborhood when they met Saturday morning.

 

The decisive vote comes in the wake of survey results released Wednesday showing overwhelming resident opposition to a zoning change that would allow Brother’s Food Mart, a convenience store chain with multiple locations in Greater New Orleans, to sell alcohol at the now-derelict building sitting between DeBlanc Pharmacy and the Asian Pacific Cafe.

 

Nearly 68 percent residents surveyed—or 158 of 233—objected to alcohol sales at Brother’s, according to the survey results.

 

“Right now our alcohol providers are responsible and good merchants. There is no selling to minors, no selling to those who have consumed too much and no aggressive selling of objectionable packages of alcohol,” Linda Landesberg wrote in a June 9 e-mail she posted on the Faubourg-St. John Neighborhood Association listserv.

 

“We have reached our limit,” wrote Landesberg, “and we don’t need to stress out the businesses we have and love with more competition from a chain store.”

 

Eddie Hamden, the owner of Brother’s Food Mart, has tried to work with residents, but he also needs to run a profitable business, said Joe DiRosa, Hamden’s attorney. Brother’s can sell alcohol if we get a permit, or we can install gas pumps and stay open 24 hours.

 

BOOZE OR GAS?

 

Brother’s must apply for a permit through city government and ultimately get approval from the City Council in order to sell alcohol at their Esplanade location. Support, or at least non-opposition from residents and the neighborhood association could help Hamden’s application.

 

Since Hamden’s property is zoned as a “neighborhood business,” he has the legal right to install gas pumps and set his hours without any permits from city government. But, DiRosa said, we wanted to be a good neighbor, so we have tried to listen to residents and address their concerns.

 

“The basic issue is whether or not the neighborhood would rather have a store with limited hours (6AM to 11PM) that sells the same types of liquor that is sold at Terranovas and Consecos without 6 gas pumps, or a (likely)24 hour convenience store with no liquor, but with 6 gas pumps in the parking lot near Esplanade Avenue,” explained Rocky Seydel, a lawyer and a FSJNA board member in a June 7 listserv e-mail.

 

Residents have expressed concern over both options. Some worry alcohol sales will result in loitering and increased crime. Cheap gasoline, others fear, will cause traffic congestion.

 

“Does anyone remember when Circle K had gas pumps,” asked Kenny Tassin in a June 9 FSJNA post. “I do and it was a traffic nightmare. Esplanade and Grand Route St John was always congested with cars waiting in line for the gas pumps that the parking lot is to small for.”

 

As national prices gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, others thought affordable gasoline would be an asset to the neighborhood.

 

“Competitive gas at convenient hours is not the end of the world. Heck, even a little fried food that i could buy at 11:00 pm would be quite nice. We have all the beer, wine, and liquor we need in the area. We lack competitive gas and late night convenience services,” wrote Bill Dalton on June 8.

 

THE 13 PROVISOS

 

Trying to address resident concerns, Brother’s and FSJNA negotiated a deal in February that was subject to resident opinion (hence the survey): the neighborhood association would not oppose Hamden’s application to sell alcohol if he agreed to follow 13 “provisos,” which dictated how Brother’s would operate once it opened.

 

The provisos would limit the store’s hours of operation and the types of alcoholic beverages it could sell to those already sold by other businesses in the area. It also forbids the installation of gas pumps.

 

Derek Scheerer, a city planner with the New Orleans City Planning Commission and a Faubourg-St. John resident, looked over the provisos at City Hall and called them “a wish list.”

 

“They can ask that these be put in, but Brother’s doesn’t have to listen to them one iota,” said Scheerer. “The neighborhood association has absolutely zero say. Only the City Council can attach provisos.”

 

Scheerer focused on proviso 12: “Brothers will agree to sell only the type and quality of liquor, beer and wine sold at Conseco’s and Terranova’s; including no quarts of beer and no malt liquor.”

 

“This is absolutely arbitrary,” he said. “I think it borders on racist. I take offense to that. It’s his business. He can see what he wants to sell. It’s very elitist.”

 

The City Council will not attach such a proviso, Scheerer said. They will limit the hours of operation and make sure lighting is in accordance with the law, but Hamden has the right to compete with other businesses by selling different products.

 

ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM

 

“Brothers comes into the neighborhood association meeting and says, ‘If I don’t get a liquor license, I’m going to sell Urban Wear and put in six gas pumps,’” said Elizabeth Thompson, co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, which is located just around the corner from Hamden’s property.

 

“It was an ugly threat. I don’t think people would mind if it was presented in a nice way,” Thompson said. “‘I’m gonna bring homeboys into your neighborhood’—it’s such an ugly, racist way to behave.”

 

“The first racist punch was from Brothers, who said, ‘If we don’t get the alcohol license, we’re going to sell Urban Wear and bring young, black men into a predominantly white neighborhood. They appealed to the community’s baser instincts,” said Robert Thompson, also co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse and Elizabeth’s husband.

 

“I don’t think Urban Wear was part of the original business plan, but was used as a strategy to get the alcohol license,” Robert Thompson said. “I think Urban Wear was used to fan existing fears in an affluent, white community.”

 

“That is absolutely, utterly, completely untrue,” said DiRosa. “We tried to meet with residents. We intended on being a good neighbor. We wanted to hear what they had to say. For someone to have said that there was some racial motivations is totally offensive. That really is way, way out of bounds. The racism exists in the mind of the person who told you that.”

 

Seydel agrees with DiRosa. “All that stuff about racial innuendos is completely untrue and being repeated by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. I absolutely deny that,” he said. “Eddie Hamden has been very cooperative, very patient in letting us work through our process and resolve it.”

 

“Our business is not to make enemies,” said DiRosa. “We want to be friends with our customers.”

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3 Responses to Board unanimous in opposition to alcohol permit

  1. fgowners says:

    Dirosa says. :“We tried to meet with residents. We intended on being a good neighbor. We wanted to hear what they had to say.”

    Well he did meet with neighbors, and now he can hear what they had to say. But I guess if they don’t say what he wants them to he will not be a good neighbor as he “intended”?

    As for Seydel’s ugly remarks about those who disagree with him “not knowing what they are talking about”, I hope he isn’t denying that Dirosa and Hamden threatened the urban wear. It was presented at the March 10 FSJNA Board meeting exactly that way. Rocky’s support for fellow attorney DiRosa’s client is odd. One would have thought Seydel would have more concern for his own neighborhood than to advocate for a convenience store.

  2. ursulines says:

    The animosity in fgowner’s Response is hard to understand, as is the content of the “Allegations of Racism” portion of this mostly well written article. However, I understand that it’s a Blog and people can write what they want, even without facts to back it up.
    What we have witnessed with the Brothers survey and vote is exactly how the process is supposed to work. This was a little unusual only because Brothers came to the FSJNA Board BEFORE they sought the Conditional Use, to get the Board’s input. Usually, we are not so lucky. There were a lot of obvious and warranted concerns. We told Mr. Hamden that we would observe our normal procedure and do a survey to see what the neighbors wanted. Before circulating the survey we met twice with him to see what Provisos he would agree to as a permanent restriction on the property. We also had him contact the owner of the property and get the owners agreement to permanently bind the property with these restrictions. We also met with the City Council to make sure that the Provisos were acceptable, and we were told that they were. As indicated in the main article, there were a lot of opinions both for and against the Conditional Use but in the end, the vote was taken and we now know the results. End of story.
    The allegations of racism that seem to come from fgowners in the article are very disturbing. They are also innacurate, and unfair. Unlike fgowners, I met with Mr Hamden and his attorney 5-6 times and had numerous telephone conversations to try to give FSJNA members a reasonable choice so that an intelligent vote could be taken on the issue. At no time did I ever hear Mr. Hamden or his attorney make any remarks that had a hint of racism about them. I’m pretty sure that I was at the March 10 FSJNA Board meeting and I didn’t hear them then either. I think that if they had been made as fgowners alleges, there would have been a near riot at that time, and there wasn’t. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that Mr. Hamden or Mr. DiRosa said at any time “If we don’t get the alcohol license, we’re going to sell Urban Wear and bring young, black men into a predominately white neighborhood.” Or, “I’m gonna bring homeboys into your neighborhood.” “Homeboys?” Give me a break. Nothing even remotely related to that was said at any time when I was present,
    Frankly, I really don’t understand why fgowners persists in trying to stir things up. The vote was taken, let’s move on. Really, is there any legitimate reason to say “But I guess if they don’t say what he wants them to he will not be a good neighbor as he intended?” This kind of rhetoric is unfounded and destructive, and really not worthy of being repeated, even in a Blog. Why all the animosity?
    Lastly, I will adress briefly, my “ugly remarks about those who disagree with him.” Lots of people disagree with me every day–at home (often), at work, and at play. I really don’t mind. What I do mind is people making unfounded accusations of racism where none exists. I do deny that Mr. DiRosa or Mr. Hamden “threatened the urban wear.” At no time did I hear them threaten anything. Under the zoning as it now exists, they are allowed to put in 24 hour gas pumps, sell their (I hear) very good fried chicken, shoes, hair bonnets, catamarans, Post Toasties, urban wear or most other things. Just like with gas pumps, some people think that potentially selling those things in that space on Esplanade Avenue is not appealing. As you know, the vote was not unanimous. I’m sure that there was, likely on several occasions, a discussion about what could be sold there,(including urban wear) since the issue has been discussed at several Board meetings and a General Membership meeting thoroughly over the course of several months. I never heard “urban wear” used with racial overtones or as a threat.
    I also don’t understand the meanspirited remark about my “support for fellow attorney DiRosa’s client.” Can I respectfully ask where that comes from? I have known Joe DiRosa casually for 20 years just as I know hundreds of other attorneys that I have encounterd in court and elsewhere. . Frankly, (this may sound sick, but as an attorney) I’d just as soon argue with him as agree with him. Does taking numerous hours out of my workday to fulfill my obligations as a Board member by meeting with a new business in the neighborhood and their attorney on a contoversial issue constitute “support for my fellow attorney?” You be the judge.
    I also don’t understand the meanspirited remark “One would have thought Seydel would have more concern for his own neighborhood than to advocate for a convenience store.” Where does that come from? The Brothers location is zoned for a convenience store. I had nothing to do with that, and as anyone who knows me realizes, I would rather see almost anything else at that location. In fact, the first approach the Board took after Brothers came to the Board meeting was to see if we could, somehow, take over the lease by getting another more desirable business interested in the location or getting a consortium of already present businesses to sublease the spot. I spoke to numerous people about that possibility, and reviewed the lease. Unfortunately, the Brothers lease prohibits any sublease. When we found that out, we set out to see what obtions were available so they could be offered in the survey.
    I think my record about “my concern for this neighborhood” speaks for itself, I have been FSJNA President 3 times, and I have been on the Board since @ 1989. I can’t count the number of hours that has taken, and I am happy and proud to have served. I am proud of the way that the Board , under President Kate Parker’s guidance, handled this difficult issue. I am entitled as a FSJNA resident and as a Board member to my opinion about the issues that arise, and I may even tell others what my opinion is. I have never insisted that others agree with me and I don’t recall that I have ever insulted publicly those who don’t.
    There is no issue here. Let’s move on.

  3. fgowners says:

    For someone who accuses his opponents of being fact-less, Mr. Seydel says “Frankly, I really don’t understand why fgowners persists in trying to stir things up. The vote was taken, let’s move on.” The quotations which he refers to here were made before the survey was finished. Is he playing loose with the “facts” here?

    And I hardly think the references to urban wear were fabricated by opponents to the alcohol permit. Seydel is literally right that Hamden and DiRosa did not make the comments at the May 10 meeting – because they were not there. The comments were reported to the membership by one of the negotiaters.

    But for someone who “briefly” wanted to address an issue and then having “stirred” it all up again and then abruptly close the discussion, I say fine, have the all important last word.

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