LINCOLN — Neighbors and members of two nearby churches pleaded with a state board Tuesday to reject a liquor license for a Tobacco Hut convenience store at 62nd Street and Ames Avenue in Omaha.
Protesters told the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission that the north-central Omaha neighborhood already has a glut of alcohol outlets and that the additional traffic expected at the Tobacco Hut presented a hazard to local children.
That’s because traffic from the Tobacco Hut regularly cuts through the parking lot of the adjacent New Rising Star Baptist Church to get back on Ames Avenue and drive east, church members said.
Augustus McNair, the musical director at the Baptist church, said he’d personally seen three near-accidents in the church parking lot involving kids and cars trying to detour from the Tobacco Hut.
“Now we want to add alcohol to the equation?” asked McNair. “We wouldn’t do this anywhere else in Omaha.”
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But officials with the Tobacco Hut, who have failed twice previously to obtain liquor licenses, said they recently installed a barrier that has diverted almost all traffic from cutting through the church lot.
Mark Meisinger, an engineer hired by the business, said that during a 10-hour observation on Sunday, Nov. 18, only nine cars out of 773 cars drove around the barrier to drive through the church parking lot.
“He’s doing everything he can to stem that issue,” said attorney Sean Kelley, who represented the business owner.
The problem, Meisinger said, is that a median on Ames Avenue blocks traffic exiting the Tobacco Hut from turning east on the busy, four-lane roadway. So some motorists cut across 62nd Street and through the church parking lot, and a fast-food restaurant’s lot, to reach 61st Street, where access to eastbound lanes on Ames is available.
Liquor Commissioner Bruce Bailey of Lincoln said he recently visited the Tobacco Hut location, and the first vehicle he saw drove around the new barrier and through the church parking lot.
When he asked the engineer if there were other solutions to block such traffic, Meisinger said either the convenience store or the Baptist church could totally block traffic from crossing the church parking lot, but that would reduce access to the business and church. A median could also be installed on 62nd Street between the Tobacco Hut and the church, the engineer said, but the street is most likely too narrow for that.
The Rev. Portia Cavitt of nearby Clair Memorial United Methodist Church said there were already four liquor outlets within four blocks of the Tobacco Hut, and 14 within about 2 miles.
“This area is already inundated (with liquor outlets),” Cavitt said. “Please consider the residents of this area.”
Kelley pointed out that the Omaha City Council voted 6-1 to recommend approval of a license to sell beer and wine at the location, with the condition that no single cans of beer less than 24 ounces be sold.
He said that his client has met all requirements to qualify for a liquor license.
The commission held the public hearing after nearly 200 citizens filed letters of protest. Meanwhile, about 250 customers of the Tobacco Hut signed a petition in support of the liquor license, according to owner John Greuneisen.
The liquor board took no action after hearing about three hours of testimony on Tuesday morning, deferring a vote to its February meeting.