EAST ISLES — Want a bottle of wine to complement your groceries? It appears soon you’ll be able to buy both at Kowalski’s, 2440 Hennepin Ave.
The Minneapolis Planning Commission approved two conditional use permits and a site plan for a proposed 1,003-square-foot liquor store addition Sept. 19. As is the case with the liquor stores adjacent to the Woodbury and Eagan Kowalski’s markets, the East Isles location will feature a selection of predominately fine and organic wines, with a more limited selection of premium craft and specialty beers and spirits.
At a public hearing held during the Planning Commission meeting, a few neighbors raised concerns about increased traffic that may result from the liquor store. But in a document that ultimately recommended approval of the conditional use permits and site plan, city planning staff pointed out that there are 66 parking spaces already on site — 22 more than required for the grocery, drug store and liquor store.
Despite staff’s recommendation, Planning Commissioner Dan Cohen said he’d like to see more research done on the impact a liquor store and the new US Bank branch location at 2420 Hennepin Ave. will have on traffic congestion and parking availability in the area.
Since that research hasn’t yet taken place, Cohen said he couldn’t vote in favor of Kowalski’s permits or site plan. He was the only dissenter in each of the three Planning Commission votes.
Earlier in September, the East Isles Residents Association (EIRA) recommended approval of Kowalski’s liquor store plan.
EIRA Vice President Dan McLaughlin said supporting Kowalski’s plan was a relatively easy call since the store already has ample parking and “has been a good neighbor” since it moved into the grocery store space formerly occupied by Super Valu back in 2003.
But not everyone is happy about the prospect of one-stop shopping for food and alcohol in East Isles.
In particular, the Planning Commission’s decision was disappointing to Dan Kerkinni, 26, a former financial analyst who has been working for almost a year to open a liquor store with a local and craft beer emphasis along Hennepin within blocks of Kowalski’s. With Kowalski’s expansion moving forward, it appears his work has been in vain.
Late last year, Kerkinni sought city approval to open a liquor store in the old US Bank branch at 2546 Hennepin Ave. Those plans had to be scrapped early this year when City Council Member Meg Tuthill (10th Ward) authored an ordinance amendment, later approved by the Council in a 7-6 vote, that made it illegal to open a liquor store within 300 feet of the property line of a school or church. 2546 Hennepin is right across the street from Jefferson Elementary’s playground.
Kerkinni then set his sights on opening a liquor store in the old tailor shop at 2653 Hennepin Ave. and submitted an application for that site late this summer. But the approval of Kowalski’s plan means Kerkinni’s latest proposal will probably never come to fruition.
That’s because city code bans liquor stores from opening within 2,000 feet from the main entrance of an existing liquor store. Since 2653 Hennepin is within 2,000 feet of Kowalski’s, the latter’s liquor store rules out Kerkinni’s dream of opening his own store along Hennepin.
Kerkinni said he’s “hoping for the best, but from what it looks like it’s probably not going to happen.”
“I think I’ve been treated unfairly,” he added, explaining that he thinks Tuthill’s ordinance was tailored to prevent his store from opening. “It seems there are some dirty politics going on here.”
But while her amendment was being debated by council last February, Tuthill denied the allegation that the change was targeted at Kerkinni. She said she had been working on the amendment before she even knew of Kerkinni’s plan.
“I have been approached … from people that have heard of the potential for a liquor store going in across the street from a school. People are very concerned about it,” she said.
Joe Bernard, the city planner working with Kerkinni on the 2653 Hennepin plan, said Kowalski’s simply beat Kerkinni to the punch.
Bernard said he was assigned to work with Kerkinni on the 2653 Hennepin project Aug. 29, three days after the deadline for preparing notices for the Sept. 19 Planning Commission meeting. Because he missed the deadline, Kerkinni’s proposal couldn’t come before the Planning Commission prior to Oct. 3.
Speaking of Kerkinni, Bernard said “he’s expressed his frustrations to me. He thinks we could’ve gotten [his liquor store proposal] on an agenda earlier, but we have deadlines that every applicant to the city has to meet, and unfortunately, his application wasn’t ready.”
Kerkinni said he might look into other locations to open his liquor store in the Uptown area, but said he remains convinced his business would “do the best” with a Hennepin Avenue location.