Option for a fourth Mounds View liquor store denied by city council


Mounds View’s former Snap Market at 2408 County Road I is being eyed by a possible tenant interested in opening a liquor store. The landowner, however, first needs to pay back taxes on the property before continuing the application process for a liquor license. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)

According to the landlord of the vacant storefront at 2408 County Road I, it’s proven difficult to find a tenant to fill the space since Snap Market moved out in 2015. (Jesse Poole/Bulletin)

Back taxes stall application for liquor license

Relatively small compared to its neighboring Ramsey County cities, with fewer than 13,000 residents, Mound View is home to three off-sale liquor stores, each located just off County Highway 10 and less than a mile apart from each other. 

The possibility of adding a fourth liquor store was voted down by Mounds View City Council last week at the recommendation of city staff, much to the appreciation of several residents in the council chambers that night. 

The 5-0 vote, however, was not based on the residents’ comments opposing the idea of a new liquor store opening at 2408 County Road I. Instead, the denial was due to ordinance restrictions that the applicant needed to sort out before continuing the application process. 

 

Pay then continue

Before council members would consider granting a liquor license to the property owner, Zulfiquar Punjani, they advised he would have to “follow the rules.” 

According to Mounds View assistant city administrator Desaree Crane, after conducting various background checks on Punjani and his possible new tenant, Keshav Enterprises, Inc., which expressed interest in operating a liquor store in the building, city staff discovered the application would have to be halted. 

While the background checks for the prospective tenant came back as satisfactory, the ones for Punjani revealed that he is delinquent on his property taxes in the amount of $28,686.28. 

Punjani said this is due to issues he had with his former tenant, Snap Market, over the last year and a half.

According to Punjani, the tenant stopped making rent payments, which meant he was losing money during the months-long process of evicting Snap Market. 

He told the council that he had paid taxes on the building for 13 years prior to the unfortunate situation. 

“I lost very badly,” he told the council members. 

The financial situation between Snap Market, which vacated the building summer of 2015, and Punjani could not be confirmed by Crane. 

 

But booze sells

Punjani said he wanted to get a liquor license for the location so he could rent it to Keshav Enterprises, Inc., because he said otherwise, “no one has been interested in renting out the building” on County Road I.

“Right now it’s dark, you know,” he said. “And if it’s dark, it’s not good for anyone.” 

He said a liquor license would mean the space would be filled quickly, the lights turned back on, and in turn it would help him begin to pay off the property taxes. 

According to Crane, however, just the fact that the property taxes are not paid up, automatically disqualifies Punjani from applying for a liquor license in the first place. 

City code states that applicants are ineligible for liquor licenses if they are delinquent on their property taxes, she said.

“In accordance with the code, no intoxicating liquor or wine license can be granted for operation on any premises on which taxes, assessments, utility bills or any financial claims by the city are delinquent or unpaid,” Crane said. 

Mayor Joe Flaherty said the “conversation” could continue after the taxes were paid.

“It certainly is within the power of this body to modify those rules from time to time,” Flaherty said. “But the bottom line is there’s a reason why those rules are in place.”

 

Catch-22 situation

The issue, Punjani explained, is that without cash flow the bank would not loan him the money to pay the back taxes, and without a tenant in the building his cash flow is insufficient. 

With a tenant, he added, he could have all his past-due taxes paid within three months. 

“If you don’t give a license, I’m not able to pay any property taxes and this place will be empty for a long time and we won’t get anywhere,” Punjani said. “I need a tenant. If I don’t get cash flow, I can’t pay bills.” 

Flaherty told Punjani it wasn’t on the council’s shoulders to grant a liquor license in order for the taxes to be paid. 

“If you don’t want [to grant] a liquor license, you bring me a tenant,” Punjani said. “I’m willing to give over the key. My rent is not that high.”

Eventually, Punjani stated he would pay the taxes either way. 

“I will pay the property taxes at the end of the day anyway, if I get a license or not.”

The council told him he could reapply once he was eligible. 

 

Neighbors weigh in

The vacant building in question forms a small scalene triangle in regards to two other Mounds View liquor stores, Big Top Liquors and Vino & Stogies — each address less than a mile from any of the others, with Abc Liquor nearby as well, just one mile away from Punjani’s building.  

During the March 28 public hearing, several residents questioned whether the city needs another liquor store, especially one in the same vicinity as the other businesses.

Each resident who stood at the podium, direct or nearby neighbor’s of the building, said an off-sale liquor store wouldn’t fit the atmosphere of their quiet neighborhood. 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815. Follow him at twitter.com/JPooleNews.

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