Brandé Payne | March, 2017
Life as a small neighborhood grocery store in Lincoln, NE is not easy. Large national and multinational corporations continue to build on the perimeter of the city and use their advertising dollars to draw customers from the city center. However, not all residents of the city center possess the means or desire to travel miles to purchase food, especially when Open Harvest Co-op Grocery is bringing local and organic food to their neighborhood. We have been serving Lincoln for over 40 years, and we want to be around for 40 more. In order to do that we need to be more competitive. We already do so many things well; but becoming a full-service grocery by providing a one-stop shopping experience will help to ensure our long-term viability. In our current retail environment that means the ability to sell beer and wine.
Right now, Open Harvest and other neighborhood grocery stores are prohibited from being full-service grocers by a city zoning ordinance. Current zoning ordinance states that in order to apply for a liquor license businesses in our district must be “no closer than 100 ft from the property line of a premises used in whole or in part for a first floor residential use, day care facility, park, church, or state mental health institution, or 100 ft. from a residential district.” We cannot meet that requirement with the residential zone directly behind the Co-op.
Recently the Open Harvest Board of Directors submitted a text amendment application on behalf of the Co-op to change the setback distance for grocery stores. Our proposal would have changed the setback distances for grocery stores only to 25 ft. The bad news is that after speaking with the Planning Department, it was made clear that there is no support for this amendment at the Planning Commission or City Council level. The lack of support appears to be because the amendment would only affect grocery stores. The good news is that there is support for a broader discussion, specifically a discussion that would look at the special permits section regarding liquor licenses as a whole. The discussion will hopefully lead to changes such that businesses like Open Harvest have an option to apply for a liquor license.
We do not yet know what form this change may take, only that there is a willingness to engage in the discussion. This is a promising first step! We have asked that Open Harvest be a part of this discussion and be alerted of any meetings or hearings that may take place.
Businesses need to be full-service in order to be competitive, and neighborhoods need full-service businesses in order to thrive. The Lincoln/Lancaster Comprehensive Plan has made it a priority to “support retention of existing businesses” and sustain the functionality of the core of the city. We are hoping to continue in that direction and give Lincoln residents access to thriving, full-service, locally-owned neighborhood grocery stores and other neighborhood businesses.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- Email a letter to the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org asking them to review Section 27.63.685 of the Lincoln City Municipal Code in an effort to make it possible for neighborhood businesses, such as grocery stores, to obtain a liquor license.
- Email a letter to the Lincoln City Council asking them to review Section 27.63.685 of the Lincoln City Municipal Code in an effort to make it possible for neighborhood businesses, such as grocery stores, to obtain a liquor license. Find email address for City Council Members here: www.lincoln.ne.gov/CITY/council/members.htm.
- Sign up for our e-newsletter below and watch your email updates and action alerts on this issue.
Open Harvest Board Chair