By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw
WINONA LAKE — A proposal to open the first liquor store in the history of Winona Lake was met with an avalanche of opposition Monday night.
A proposal to convert a business office on Kings Highway into a liquor store attracted a standing-room-only crowd to Winona Lake town hall where the town’s board of zoning appeals heard the request and ultimately turned it down with a 3-0 vote
Opposition came from numerous residents, the adjacent business – ABC Industries – as well as the president of Grace College and former state lawmaker Dave Wolkins.
Oddly enough, the property is zoned industrial and would have required a variance, but is also alongside a residential area and close to an elementary school and the Grace College campus.
Much of the opposition came from nearby residents who pointed out that there are many young children living in the immediate area.
Stacy Gagnon mixed a little humor and statistics along with a plea to retain the neighborhood character.
“My name is Stacy Gagnon and I live (on Fourth Street) and all those small children are mine,” she said, drawing laughter. “I have seven children.”
“We moved here knowing we were moving into a family neighborhood … Winona Lake is so incredibly special,” she said, prompting applause.
She also mentioned a handful of statistics that show the presence of a liquor store often results in more crime and has negative effects on children.
Grace College President Drew Flamm told the board the close proximity of a liquor store to the college would hurt its image with visitors and suggested the store would serve as a temptation of sorts to students, many of whom are underage and pledge not to drink during the school year.
The issue, he said, “matters to us because we’re very proud to be located in Winona Lake and we care about its economic development. In fact, as an institution, we contribute more than $84 million annually to the local community,” Flamm said.
“We want to support decisions that build upon what makes our community special, but we also feel it necessary to speak out against decisions that pose a threat to what makes the community special,” he said.
Attorney Steve Snyder, representing two men from South Bend who were behind the plan, argued that a liquor store in an industrial zone would be an acceptable use.
He also pointed out that the business would not cause too much additional traffic on Kings Highway.
Snyder referenced the history of Winona Lake, which for decades prohibited any sales of alcohol. That tradition was breached when the town annexed Stonehenge Golf Course years ago. He also pointed out that several businesses now serve alcohol in the Village at Winona.
About 65 people attended the meeting.
About a dozen people spoke against it. One woman said she did not have a problem with plans for the store and pointed out that a wine store in the village offers carry-out.
Two of the five board members abstained from the final vote. Those were Bruce Shaffner who owns the property at 401 Kings Highway and Brian Peterson, a real estate agent involved with the proposed sale.
Snyder said afterward that he expected opposition, but did not expect as much as what was aired.