Rick's Mart expansion fails to gain support of council again

For the second time in a year, a convenience store's controversial request for rezoning failed to gain the support of the South Bend Common Council.

The group voted 6-2 against a proposal that would allow Rick's Mart, formerly known as Munchie Mart, to expand. The owner wanted the property rezoned and a special exception to add two gas pumps and additional parking to the site. He planned to spend at least $500,000 on the project.

The store's assistant manager says the project was necessary to keep the business competitive.

"I think he should be given a chance," Miller said during Monday night's public hearing. "He's spending his own money, he's not asking anybody for any help. And, for you to brand him just because of what Munchie Mart used to be is wrong."

Several residents spoke both for and against the issue at Monday's meeting; the split neighborhood made the decision especially difficult for council members. But, they ultimately decided there were too many red flags.

Several members of the Lasalle Park Neighborhood Association have been critical of the project from the beginning. Many were concerned about the types of illegal activity that allegedly happens around the store and the types of items that are sold. They fear adding gas pumps would only create more problems.

"I mean Rick no harm, but I mean to protect the residents in my area, in my neighborhood," said Wendell Johnson. "It makes no sense for a gas station to land in the middle of a major highway area."

To try and ease some residents' concerns, the store owner agreed to a list of several commitments, if the proposal was approved.

Among them, he would limit hours from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. and wouldn't sell alcohol, drug paraphernalia or single cigarettes.

The owner also agreed to increase security and lighting on the property.

While the city administration supports some of those commitments, the office of Community Investment was against the addition of gas pumps.

"The city hesitates to endorse a special exception to create a new auto-related use here that because of its characteristics would have a negative effect on the quality of life and property values for neighboring residents," said planner Michael Divita.

Council members Valerie Schey and Fred Ferlic were the only two to vote in favor of the petition. Both expressed concerns about how turning down the request could impact Rick's future business and if it would result in him leaving the neighborhood.

Schey said she was encouraged to know the number of calls for service at the property have dramatically decreased over the past three years. According to her, there were 34 calls for service in 2010 and only 14 last year.

But, those numbers weren't enough to convince other council members.

It's unclear if the owner of Rick's Mart will make a request for rezoning once again. His attorney previously stated he intends to continue doing business at his current location.

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