A Wheaton convenience store will now be able to sell liquor, despite opposition from two councilmen, leaders from a nearby church and at least one resident.
The city council approved an amendment to the Wheaton City Code with a 5-2 vote Monday that allows for the sale of the alcohol in the 7-Eleven at 326 W. Liberty Drive.
According to the code, liquor licenses can't be issued for the retail sale of alcohol within 100 feet of "any church, school, hospital home for the aged or indigent persons."
The distance between the rear corner of the 7-Eleven and the nearest part of the parish center for St. Michael's Catholic Church is about 70 feet, which resulted in the store seeking an amendment to the city code so it could acquire a liquor license.
The city's staff said the distance between the public doors of 7-Eleven and the parish center, however, is considerably greater than 100 feet.
Before voting on the proposal, the city reached out to St. Michael's Church to get opinions. The pastor, Daniel E. Hoehn, responded with a letter in which he asked the council to be mindful of "the need to protect the most vulnerable members of our town."
Hoehn said the people who use the church's faith center include preschoolers and more than 800 public schoolchildren ages 3 to 10 who attend religious education classes, along with Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops, high school youth groups and a number of parent organizations.
"Let us not trivialize or be dismissive of the risks associated with the sale of alcohol within 70 feet of this gathering of children, adolescents and adults," Hoehn wrote, noting that there have been 124 calls for police assistance at the 7-Eleven since 2012.
Michael Doerries was the only resident to voice concern over the amendment at Monday's meeting. He said he enjoys shopping at the 7-Eleven but also worries about the safety of children who frequent the business.
"You're being asked to change an existing code and its one sole purpose is public safety. I think you need to act with a little bit of trepidation," he said. "I think the concerns about safety that existed when the code was drafted are still present, and I think the risks outweigh any benefit that's going to be derived from amending the code in permitting the sale of alcohol within 70 feet of a church or school."
Charlene Brandt, a representative for the 7-Eleven franchisee, asked the city council members to have an open mind, noting that the store would sell the liquor safely and securely.
"We don't feel as a company, as a franchisee, we're putting anybody at risk, let alone children," she said. "All those children that go to St. Michael's to the church, to the school, also, probably (go) grocery shopping (at) Walgreens, Jewel, Mariano's with their families as well, where there's alcoholic beverages that are out in the open. So I kind of feel as if, I don't want to use the word picked-on, but I still feel that we have every right to pursue this."
Still, Councilman Phil Suess said he felt it was important to put the school first. He voted no, along with Councilman Thor Saline.
"If we go ahead with this we're exposing St. Mike's, the school, the activities there to a risk that we're not imposing on anybody else in the community, and quite frankly, I think that's the way we have to look at it," he said. "I think this is where we need to draw the line. The ordinance is 100 feet."
Councilman John Prendiville said he would be against the amendment if the council was talking about a bar.
"But we're not," he said. "We're talking about the sale of packaged liquor. I don't think this creates any higher risk than we have anywhere else in the community."
Mayor Michael Gresk, a longtime member of the St. Michael's parish, said he has faith that the sale of alcohol at the 7-Eleven can be enforced and maintained in a "civil and appropriate fashion."
"If there's a discomfort level I can understand that," he said. "I take comfort from the fact, too, that there are laws that are going to be enforced on this one. 7-Eleven corporate realizes that, the franchisee realizes that."