Some neighbors say the current owner of the Richdale in Wenham should be granted a liquor license because somewhere to buy beer and wine is needed in the area, while others say they are concerned about the negative impact on their property values.
The Board of Selectmen last week heard the initial plans from Richdale owner Albert Abdelmalak about his application for the town's only package store license.
The license had been held by Wenham Tea House, but when the management changed and Henry's Fine Foods took over, owner John Keohane said he preferred a pouring license. So the Tea House license was changed from a package store license to a pouring license, with the approval of the Legislature and signature of the governor. That made the package store license available.
Three different businesses expressed interest in the license, but Richdale was the first to submit an application. Richdale's application was first considered in April, but that process has to be halted when it was discovered that the package store license was assigned only to the Tea House. When the Tea House was granted a pouring license, that opened up the town's only package store license to be assigned to a new location.
While Selectmen on Tuesday heard from neighbors both supportive of the package store license going to Richdale, and other with concerns, there's still one significant unanswered question - whether it is allowed by zoning.
Abdelmalak's attorney, Tom Truax of Salem, said that the property has been used for retail businesses for many years and there is nothing in the zoning that bars it from being used for a liquor store.
"That little mini-mall is zoned as a business area," he said, referring to the building that also houses Winfrey's.
Selectman Ken Whittaker said he wants to check on the zoning to confirm that liquor sales is an allowable use to "cover all our bases."
The town also has a special attorney to advise it on the liquor license application, Mark Lanza of Concord. He encouraged Selectmen to look into whether zoning would allow liquor sales.
"It might not be as simple as we think it is," Lanza said.
The Board of Selectmen have until Jan. 31 to make a decision.
Some neighbors said the store has been cleaner and better run under Abdelmalak versus previous owner. Some said that he deserved the license to make sure the business remains viable.
"I don't see what the big deal is," said John Acciavatti, who lives up the street on Route 97.
He did not feel that beer and wine sale sat Richdale would negatively affect the area and feels the area is already well policed, well lit and Abdelmalak is on top of any issue that crop up.
But others, such as Paul Watson, said it will be harder to sell his home with a package store nearby. Watson lives next door on Maple Street.
"We feel we have the most at stake," he said.
Watson moved there 18 years ago an checked whether Richdale sold alcohol.
"That was a huge concern for us," he said.
Truax called the plan a "very modest proposal" where three fridge doors and a 24 square foot floor area would be devoted to beer and wine sales.
"It certainly isn't a Kappy's on anything like that," he said referring to the large store on Route 114 in Danvers and Peabody and on Route 1 in Malden.
While the legislation allows up to 200 square feet be dedicated to alcohol sales, Truax said Abdelmalak's proposal calls for 57 square feet of alcohol sales.
Truax said Abdelmalak has significant exp3erince running stores that sell alcohol. He worked for White Hen, and later Seven-11, after emigrating from Egypt.
"He knows how to run a convenience store well," he said.