Planning Commission approves waiver for beer, wine at Starbucks

Planning Commission approves waiver for beer, wine at Starbucks
Starbucks in San Marco Square

In the future, Starbucks may serve beer and wine alongside coffee and tea at its San Marco Square location.

Despite objections from the San Marco Preservation Society, Southside Baptist Church, and the Duval County School District, the Jacksonville Planning Commission voted to grant Starbucks at 1980 San Marco Blvd. a waiver of minimum distance requirements for liquor license application so it may implement its new “Evenings” menu, which includes beer and wine.

During a meeting Feb. 4, the planning commission voted 7-1 in favor of the popular coffee café, with Ben Davis as the only commission member dissenting.

In the application for the waiver, Brian Plewinski of E-Z Permits, Inc. requested the city reduce the 500-foot minimum distance between liquor license location and church and school, as required by law, to 308 feet. Starbucks needed the waiver because Southside Baptist Church lies in close proximity to the Starbucks store.

At the meeting, Plewinski noted the Taverna Restaurant, which is located adjacent to Starbucks, was granted a liquor permit as well as Pizza Palace, a restaurant across the square, which is closer to the church than the coffee café. While Taverna has a full liquor license, he said Starbucks intends to serve only craft beer, red and white wine with its expanded menu, which will also include bistro-style appetizers.

“Starbucks is a very responsible company. It has been named fifth most admired company in the world by Forbes Magazine, and fourth in social responsibility,” Plewinski said. “In other rankings, it increases the value of homes in its neighborhoods. They actually increase in value higher than homes that are not within a certain distance of a Starbucks. It is known as the Zillow effect.”

Plewinski said Starbucks follows the Florida Responsible Vendor Program, which provides training to make sure no alcohol beverages get into the hands of minors.

Prior to the meeting the San Marco Preservation Society (SMPS) had written a letter to the commission spelling out its reason for opposing the waiver. District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer expressed several concerns from her constituents through email to the commission, but did not take a position herself, said Planning Commission Chairman Chris Hagan.

During the meeting, SMPS President-Elect LeAnna Cumber outlined the society’s concerns, saying it had consulted with the San Marco Merchants Association.

Cumber said that from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Starbucks is a favorite hang-out for students from local schools. “They come to do homework. Serving beer and wine in a place where all these kids are without their parents or other adults just doesn’t seem like a wise decision,” she said.

“Starbucks has been a really poor neighbor in San Marco,” Cumber continued adding for the past seven years Starbucks has been invited to join the San Marco Merchants Association, which maintains and beautifies the square, and it refused. “The Merchants Association was told that Starbucks didn’t make enough money to pay the $500 annual fee to join,” she said.

Not only did Starbucks refuse to join SMMA, it also ignored the Preservation Society. “They have not done anything to sponsor anything we have done, and we have repeatedly tried to talk to them and nobody will talk to us,” Cumber said.

Perhaps the Society’s main concern was Starbucks trash. The store refuses to empty the two overflowing garbage cans outside its doors, Cumber said. SMMA had to add another pick-up each week to take care of the problem, she said. “We have tried and tried to reach out to Starbucks and no one responds. We can’t get a hold of anyone who has any authority because the district manager has said they can’t do anything, and the local managers can’t do anything,” Cumber said.

Speaking as the parent of four minor children, and on behalf of Southside Baptist, where he is senior pastor, and nearby Landon Middle School, where he is a School Advisory Council member, Webber said he agreed with Cumber’s concerns. He said most students in his congregation “frequent” Starbucks, not only after school but also Wednesday nights and Sundays after church.

“The concern really wouldn’t be that Starbucks would sell alcohol to minors,” he said. “I think we all recognize they’ll be responsible. The concern is the atmosphere in a very small space, which has become known as a safe place to allow your kids to go and be in the community with their friends,” Webber said.

Representing the school district, Tyler Loehnert recommended the commission uphold the distance restriction. “It’s opposed by the church. It’s within 500 feet. And again, that distance was set for a reason,” he said, noting that since Starbucks is trying to increase its evening business, perhaps alcohol sales could be limited to after 6 p.m. until close, instead of the customary time of 4 p.m.

Stating that he could speak for Starbucks, Plewinski said he was willing to pull out his checkbook and pay for Starbucks to join both the Preservation Society and the Merchants Association at the meeting. “I think that should have been done a long time ago,” he said. “It’s not typical. I deal with a lot of other Starbucks around the state, and they are members of the community. I’m not sure why this particular district manager has not joined earlier, but we would be happy to do that.”

Plewinski said the company did not want to have a time restriction put on the waiver, however he was willing for the commission to set a condition stating Starbucks would take care of trash pick-up in front of its store. “I deal with Starbucks facilities on other permits and licensing issues, and I understand it’s hard to reach the decision makers at the top because it’s a large organization,” he said.

After much discussion, the commission decided not to put a condition on the waiver, choosing instead to have it placed in the record that Starbuck’s representative has agreed to take care of the trash issue.

After the meeting, Cumber said she was disappointed in the commission’s decision but noted several positives came from the meeting.

“We are finally able to have a dialogue with the people in charge and that’s what we have wanted for seven years,” she said, adding since the meeting there have been several interactions via email with company officials. “I have full faith they will resolve the trash issue, and we will have a good relationship going forward. That said, I still don’t think having Starbucks sell alcohol is an appropriate use of that space.”

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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