SOUTH HAVEN — Several years ago South Haven developer Randy Locker pitched the idea of renovating the former Save-a-Lot grocery store near downtown into a brewpub. But one hurdle stood in his way – a neighboring house of worship exercised its right to oppose the issuance of a Class C liquor license.
Time has passed however, and now the First Hebrew Congregation, located right next to the Save-a-Lot property at 237 Broadway Avenue, has decided not to oppose a restaurant from applying for a license to serve alcohol.
The owner of Los Ranchos, LLC hopes to open a restaurant in the former grocery store, currently being redeveloped by Locker & Locker LLC into a strip mall with space for up to five retail and office establishments.
Los Ranchos operates two El Rancho Mexican Restaurants in Holland and wants to open a third restaurant in South Haven.
The restaurant owner’s hopes may have been dashed, but with the help of South Haven city officials, an agreement has been reached between the developer and the synagogue.
Council members on Monday unanimously passed the proposed agreement that will allow either Locker or the restaurant to apply for a permit from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to serve alcohol at the restaurant.
“We will likely have a redevelopment liquor license sought by Randy (Locker), allowing Los Ranchos to operate under that license,” City Manager Brian Dissette said. “Previous developers looking to redevelop the site had been doing so with the assumption they could get a Class C liquor license. But in initial conversations with the synagogue, for whatever reason they couldn’t get their blessing.”
Typically, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission will not issue a Class C liquor license to an establishment if it is within 500 feet of a church or school. However, if the church or school does not object the commission can consider granting a waiver.
According to Steve Tolen, a member of the synagogue’s board, the synagogue had been opposed to the idea of being right next door to an establishment selling liquor because it had dealt with problems in the past.
“The synagogue had previously experienced disturbance to our services with noise and trash due to an unrestricted approval,” he said.
Dissette gave credit to developer Randy Locker for meeting right away with synagogue leaders to see if an agreement could be reached.
“Ultimately Randy and his team made a variety of concessions on outdoor music, noise and signage,” Dissette said. In exchange, the synagogue won’t oppose the liquor license.
“We would have opposed supporting the license if the new business had unrestricted approval,” Tolen said. “We strongly support the community and the development of South Haven. We worked with Randy Locker to reach an agreement that meets both our needs. We are confident the agreement among the synagogue, Locker, Los Ranchos, and the city will work for all.”
The city, which also must sign off on it, helped to broker the deal by having the four parties sign a formal agreement outlining the concessions each party would make.
“It’s great to see everyone sit down and talk and hammer this out,” Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gruber said. “It’s great to see neighbors talking.”
“It’s nice to see that property improving after so many years,” Mayor Scott Smith said.
The former Save-a-Lot building has sat vacant since 2015. Locker purchased the building and pitched several ideas for redevelopment. At one point he proposed building a three-story commercial and residential complex on the site, but scrapped the idea because of opposition from neighboring homeowners. His latest plan to renovate the existing building has met with no formal opposition. He hopes to have the renovations completely finished by June 1, 2020.