Kroger variance request denied in Grosse Pointe Woods

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 3, 2019

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The Kroger located at 20422 Mack Ave. will not be able to sell liquor on its premises.

At the Nov. 25 Grosse Pointe Woods City Council meeting, the council voted 6-1 to deny a resolution for a special land use variance request to transfer a Specially Designated Distributor, or SDD, license into the city.

Denying the request forbids the sale of liquor at the grocery store, as a city ordinance prohibits the sale of alcohol within 500 feet of a church or school. Christ the King Lutheran Church & Preschool, located next door at 20338 Mack Ave., is within 500 feet. A variance is a request to deviate from current zoning requirements.

The variance request was turned down for several stated reasons, including that Kroger failed to show that the property could not be reasonably used in a manner consistent with the existing zoning, and that it failed to show its plight was due to unique circumstances.

According to city documents, the Grosse Pointe Woods Planning Commission previously recommended denial of the variance request. Before the City Council voted on the matter at last week’s meeting, a public hearing was held to hear from individuals both in favor of and opposed to the variance request.

Attorney Jason Canvasser, of the law firm Clark Hill PLC in Detroit, represented Kroger. Several members of Christ the King Lutheran Church & Preschool spoke in opposition.

Canvasser said Kroger currently sells beer and wine at the Grosse Pointe Woods location. He said the Kroger staff sells the beer and wine responsibly by making sure to check identifications and spotting signs of intoxication in customers.

Canvasser said all Kroger employees who work at cash registers undergo TIPS training. TIPS, which stands for Training for Intervention Procedures, offers education and training for the responsible service, sale and consumption of alcohol. TIPS is designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunken driving.

“Kroger is only looking to put a very small spirits selection in its store. Kroger is looking to do that so they can provide full selections of products to its customers. Consumers today are looking for convenience,” Canvasser said. “They want to be able to buy that special bottle of scotch for a holiday, or a bottle of Kahlua for Grandma’s coffee, or something else for a special occasion for the holidays, especially this time of year. Kroger is not looking to have brown bag liquor sales.

“Kroger has been a good corporate citizen of the city for years,” Canvasser said. “Kroger gives back to the church. It gives back to other charitable organizations.”

Diane Wyrock, head trustee of Christ the King Lutheran Church & Preschool, and also the church’s attorney, was the first to speak at the public hearing opposing Kroger’s request. She said Christ the King has been a member of the community for more than 75 years. She also said that Christ the King owns the majority of the parking lot located in between the church and Kroger. She said that both entities entered into a land lease on April 30, 1997.

“At the time (the) lease was entered into, the intent was no liquor,” Wyrock said. “Our lease provides that if Kroger were to leave, then the property cannot be used as a bar or a tavern or a cocktail lounge. Kroger is within 500 (feet) of our church and preschool and is attempting to obtain this variance. The ordinance was enacted for a purpose: to keep alcohol a safe distance from our church and school. If the provision of the ordinance needs to be changed, then it should be done legislatively and not by way of a variance.”

The church offers services, Bible classes, a preschool, Sunday school for children, and various outdoor activities involving children.

“Since the inception of the lease, Christ the King has had a challenging relationship with Kroger. Christ the King has continued to try to be a good neighbor even under these difficult situations. There has been a revolving door of managers in the store, and they fail to adhere to the terms of the lease.”

While at the podium, Wyrock said that there have been other issues, including not enough parking space in the lot for people to attend certain services.

Todd A. McConaghy is the council member who voted against denying the special land use variance request and the SDD application.

“I will be voting against the motion. Obviously, I’m in the minority here. I came to the hearing tonight believing this should be denied,” McConaghy said. “Essentially, what you’re arguing is that liquor sales will affect the church. I don’t see that the purchase of liquor will affect the church. They’re not getting a license to consume liquor in the parking lot. Frankly, I don’t see why they should be prejudiced any more than any other business in Grosse Pointe Woods.”

Councilwoman Vicki Granger, who voted in favor of the motion, shared her thoughts.

“The Planning Commission listened to this thoroughly, and the Planning Commission’s determination was to recommend denial,” Granger said. “I’ve never gotten any communication from any resident saying, ‘Gee, I really want to have more access to liquor.’”