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Editorial: City should allow liquor store or reimburse its developer

March 18, 2017 at 11:20 p.m.

While a developer certainly bears responsibility for conducting his own due diligence, it appears a perfect storm of foul-ups have led Nishil Patel into a tough spot with the City of Longview.

In his quest to serve the fast-growing Northeast Longview market a product he believes will be profitable, it appears Patel went through all the right steps — or at least those he was led to understand were taking him in the right direction.

But as he approached the finish line, he found the rules were not what he thought — and now could be left holding a bag into which he says he has sunk more than a half million dollars.

Patel, a third-generation retailer of distilled spirits, wants to build what he calls a high-end liquor store at 2000 N. Eastman Road. He says the site is the only one appropriate for his Heritage Wine & Spirits concept. The problem is that 16-year-old deed and zoning restrictions prohibit package liquor stores at the location.

But because of City Hall foul-ups, those restrictions were not properly recorded in the records where they would usually be viewed. So, as Patel went through the process — including getting help from City Hall in securing a state Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit for the location — he was unaware of the old restrictions that would hamstring his plans.

Patel told us recently he was not made aware of them until after purchasing the property late last year. Indeed, city records show staff signed off on the Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit after reviewing the records and finding no mention of the restrictions. And beyond those restrictions, his parcel is appropriate for such a store under city zoning rules.

Patel did the only thing he could at that point. He asked the city to clear the restrictions. But facing challenges including a threat from a neighboring business to move from the city if the change was allowed, the Planning and Zoning Commission last month denied his request. That left Patel with one last shot: the Longview City Council, which is scheduled to vote this week on his request to allow the development to move forward.

Much of the discussion around this issue, unfortunately, is moot. While we would be disappointed to see Applied Consultants move from the location it occupies on Eastman Road, we do not believe such threats should play into the decision.

Likewise, we reject an idea that has flavored much of the discussion, that a business selling wine and spirits is inherently bad. There is no proof of that from other stores in our city, and no basis for such an argument.

Still, we are not certain that two wrongs make a right. If it is true City Hall failed in its duties to ensure documents were up to date, that is wrong. But does it make it right to change the rules because of that lapse in procedure? We cannot answer that question.

If anything, we see this as an indictment of a system that allows government to stand in the way of business. While we generally support zoning rules and restrictions, this case illustrates they sometimes fail.

Though we know how we would vote — in favor of business growth — we do not envy the spot in which City Council members find themselves this week.

However, we believe this: If it does not allow Patel to move ahead with his plans, the city should reimburse him for what he has invested while pursuing a plan any reasonable person would believe had the city's blessing.



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