Bayview License Dispute Raises Many Concerns
Today, the Journal Sentinel covered the story of Parshotam Singh’s fight to obtain a beer license for his Bayview convenience store, AK Food Mart. Doug Hissom at OnMilwaukee.com previously covered this battle in December when the convenience store owner’s quest was set back by Alderman Tony Zielinski’s selective use of aldermanic privilege to oppose Singh’s application. Singh’s plight raises legitimate concerns over community gentrification, the rights of business owners and the proper use of aldermanic privilege.
AK Food Mart stands along Howell Avenue as the southern bookend of the two convenience stores at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Howell Avenue. It’s northern neighbor, The Hub, already with a beer license of it’s own, is the larger of the two and offers a wider selection of food and household items, including a variety of malt beverages and beer in both regular and king-size bottles. I usually frequent The Hub at least once a week, sometimes for their beer. I can’t say the same about AK Food Mart.
What rankles Zielinski and the other critics of AK Food Mart is the general unkemptness of the area along Howell Avenue as it splits south from Kinnickinnic Avenue. Apart from Cafe LuLu, there isn’t a sense of economic development on the street that would match the impressive rejuvenation along KK. A concrete island in the middle of the intersection with Howell and Lincoln Avenue exists solely as a bus depot for riders heading in all directions. Business activity in the block where AK Food Mart sits falls off until you reach Paper Boat at the southern end; this may have a lot to do with the low-income apartment complex that sits just south of Singh’s store.
Alderman Zielinski is completely justified to argue that a beer license for AK Food Mart is not what he wants in the area, but his actions do not correspond to his words. Citing “overconcentration” in an area that has eight establishments currently selling alcohol and actively promoting the licenses for two different bars — Tonic Tavern, a yet to be opened bar north of Dee’s Wine Stop on KK, and the other, a frequently closed “eco-friendly” bar named Telluride — would indicate that Zielinski’s problem does not involve the actual sale of alcohol. The beer license is simply being used a cudgel by which Zielinski can close AK Food Mart and force its sale to developer Tim Dertz, for even without the beer license there is still access to beer in the immediate area. I’m certain that bums, panhandlers and other miscreants have already noticed the beer store just a few feet to the north of AK Food Mart.
Zielinski believes that Singh’s property is valuable and is not being developed to it’s full capacity. As the Journal Sentinel article clearly states, Zielinski wants Singh to sell the property to Tim Dertz, who owns the building housing the Tonic Tavern. But in this story, Singh definitely looks like the victim. According to the city’s property records, Tim appears to be delinquent in paying the 2008 property taxes on one of his many Bayview properties. Singh paid his 2008 property taxes in full. That’s not to criticize Dertz, but I’m sure if it was Singh that was behind on his taxes it would have been brought up at his license hearing.
If the complaints about AK Food Mart were reflective of the actual business and not a symptom of the surrounding area, I think it would be perfectly justifiable for Zielinski to recommend denial of Singh’s license application. But the knowledge that Zielinski and Dertz are working in the background to inhibit Singh’s business adds an unfortunate stain on the development process and calls into question the way we distribute valuable city licenses. Gentrification in Bayview is going to happen no matter the eventual outcome in this story, but at what rate should development be impeded if it’s being delayed by the rights of a lawful business owner?