Party planners soon will have a place in this city's redeveloping downtown to stock up on beer, wine and other alcoholic spirits.
A judge's recent ruling has forced the Temple Terrace City Council to reverse its two previous votes to deny Sweetbay Supermarket's request to open a package liquor store adjacent to its 56th Street and Chicago Avenue location.
With a vote in May, the council approved the liquor store application. The council's unanimous vote cleared the way for the Tampa-based grocery chain to open the long-sought package store by June 20, Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau said.
But despite the council's vote, some members still are flummoxed by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Wolfe's ruling that led to them to reverse their earlier decisions.
"It's really difficult to understand the law," Councilman Ron Govin said last week. "You would think a council, who knows the people, would be best able to make such a decision."
Councilman David Pogorilich expressed a similar sentiment.
"I think it's the wrong use and the wrong place, and I continue to believe that," Pogorilich said.
Sweetbay submitted a request to the city more than a year ago to open a package liquor store, LeBeau said. The retailer operates liquor stores adjacent to most of its supermarkets.
The package store addition was part of Sweetbay's $3.5 million investment in the 29-acre downtown redevelopment district. The grocery chain renovated its store's interior, and set out to add the liquor section and a new meat and seafood department.
But most council members and some residents balked at the proposal.
Govin said a liquor store was inconsistent with the character of the neighborhood.
With more than five liquor stores in the city's seven square miles, Pogorilich said, he didn't think Temple Terrace needed another one.
Some people complained Sweetbay's plans would hinder the livelihood of the well-established Gaspar's Patio Bar and Grill located less than the required 2,000 feet from the Sweetbay site. A city ordinance approved in 2009 exempts commercial areas in planned developments — including the downtown redevelopment area — from having to adhere to standard distance requirements.
Opponents of the new liquor store picked up a key ally, Jimmy Ciaccio, the owner of Gaspar's, who hired an attorney to represent the interests of the 51-year-old, family-owned operation.
Govin said last week his stance never was intended to protect a particular business.
"In my judgment, we didn't need a liquor store in the redevelopment district," Govin said.
Councilwoman Allison Fernandez said the council's prior discussions about the city code dealt with alcohol sales at restaurants, not liquor stores.
"I think the people in the community were surprised when [the Sweetbay petition] came before us," she said.
In a ruling signed Feb. 27, Wolfe found the council did not have legal grounds to deny the Sweetbay application. The petition also met all requirements of the city ordinances, his ruling added.
"It is apparent from the record that the city council had a predisposition against the application with council members making a decision based upon their individual views of the 'best use' of the Sweetbay property on a case-by-case basis in violation of applicable law," Wolfe wrote.
Mayor Joe Affronti, who chairs council meetings but is not allowed to cast a vote, said he always has supported letting the free enterprise system work.
"I felt from the outset they had every legal right to get the permit," the mayor said. "Our city ordinance allows them to do that."
As for Ciaccio, who owns Gaspar's Liquor Store across 56th Street from Sweetbay, he said he is ready to move forward and focus on his business. He has set his sights on a proposed "luxury" apartment complex in the downtown redevelopment district helping to increase customer traffic at his restaurant and patio bar.
Assuming the 214-unit apartment complex is built, the tenants who will live there "will help out my restaurant more than anything else," Ciaccio said.