A Dallas City Council committee Monday unanimously voted for an exception to rules that forbid alcohol sales within 300 feet of schools.
Kroger Co. is seeking to open a supermarket near Spence Middle School. The grocery store would be part of a $70 million mixed-used project that includes an LA Fitness Club and residential units.
But the store location is just across the street from Spence Middle School, and within the 300-foot limit in which alcohol sales are currently forbidden. The developer said the front of the store would face away from the school, with doors much farther than 300 feet from the school's doors.
"Kroger is very interested in the site, but they're not interested in the site if they cannot sell beer and wine to compete with other grocery stores in the area," said Barry Knight, an attorney representing the developer.
The Dallas City Council Economic Development committee recommended changing the 300-foot rule to help Kroger open the store.
Under Texas state law, variances to the rule is allowed with local government approval. But Dallas passed its own measure in 2003 that forbids variances from the 300-foot distance requirement.
The developer is not requesting any city tax abatement, and the property is already properly zoned for such a project. It would be built on the former site of a Loews Theatre that recorded a high crime rate on Haskell Avenue near Central Expressway.
"It's good for the neighborhood. It's good for the community. It's good for the city of Dallas, so I'll be supporting it 100 percent," said Councilman Jerry Allen.
He and other council members said the development would bring the city additional sales and property taxes that could help children in the neighborhood.
"You got to have that money," Allen said. "So it's a bigger picture than just trying to zero in and say, 'Well, it's within 300 feet.'"
But Councilman Steve Salazar warned that the committee sent a message with Monday's vote.
"I don't want us to be confused, that when a Super Mercado or Monterrey or another supermarket comes down here and asks for the same thing, we're going to give it to them. We're setting a precedent today," Salazar said.
Councilwoman Ann Margolin said it is not a negative precedent.
"I think we just continue to take these on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Some neighbors said they are not pleased with the idea of alcohol so close to the school.
"It's a bad idea for the kids," Sara Mendoza said.
Neighbor CiCi Longoria, whose grandson attends Spence Middle School, agreed.
"I wouldn't want it that close to the school. I don't think it's right," she said.
The full City Council must still approve the committee recommendation for new rules, and the developer must then apply for and be granted the variance. But Monday's unanimous committee vote carries great weight for helping Kroger's plans.
"If we miss the end-of-the-year window on this, then the deal is probably going to go down the tubes," Councilman Ron Natinsky said.