City Council: No to liquor store; pronouns return

Council President Justin Grabelle, Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn and Councilman Matt Wardell, left to right, listen during an Ocala City Council meeting at Ocala City Hall in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2020.

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Posted June 3, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee,

During the Ocala City Council meeting on June 1, more than a dozen people spoke out against a planned liquor store in their neighborhood, citing the potential for alcohol abuse and criminality.

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

According to paperwork filed with the city, PHR Ocala, LLC was seeking a permit to sell beer, wine and liquor for off-premise consumption for its planned liquor store, Discount Liquor, at 1500 W. Silver Springs Blvd.

However, a line of nearby residents questioned how a liquor store would benefit the community, spurring the council to unanimously vote down the permit.

“The west side has already been plagued with alcohol, homelessness, criminal activities,” Curtis Jones, a nearby resident, told councilmembers. “My question is – what would it benefit to introduce another liquor store in an area – in a place – where there’s already so much bad decisions being made.”

The property immediately to the south of the planned liquor store has had issues with reoccurring criminal activity, according to Tye Chighizola, the city’s growth management director.

Kings Food Mart has been the location of 42 criminal incidents over the last three years, Chighizola said.

Calls include 18 for disturbances, six for battery, five for theft, five for narcotics and one for attempted murder.

Councilman Ire Bethea Sr., who represents the area, added that those looking to purchase alcohol have several options nearby.

“There’s a liquor store on 27th, and there’s ABC on 200,” Bethea said. “And every store… every store, for the most part, sells beer and wine.”

Nearly a dozen residents spoke out against the proposal, citing the countless children that live in the area and the proximity to two churches, both of which are within a 500-foot radius of the proposed location.

Councilman Brent Malever said Madison Street Academy was also nearby before asserting he was against approving the permit.

“The area is inundated with youth. We have had some high crime, and we are trying to make a better quality of life for the people that live in that area. In order for that to happen, we have to be upfront about businesses that come in the area that may not be good for the immediate community,” Bethea said.

New pronoun proposal

Six weeks after the council nixed a proposed charter amendment to remove all pronouns from the document, the amendment returned. This time with the provision of adding the female equivalent to read as “he or she.”

The proposed amendment will have its second and final reading on June 15. If approved, it will appear as a referendum on ballots during the city’s election on Sept. 21.

During an April 20 council meeting, more than 100 people filed into the city’s chambers to denounce the proposal of eliminating gender-specific pronouns from the charter.

“I will tell you, I think this is a fair compromise from what was brought forth last time,” said Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn, who opposed the first proposal.

Expansion plans

The council also unanimously approved a budget resolution for more than $1 million to expand the Ocala Police Department’s Communications Center.

The project, which is funded by the Infrastructure Surtax Revenue – commonly called the “penny sales tax” – will double the number of consoles from 10 to 20 and provide more space for emergency personnel and backup stations for disaster preparedness.

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