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May 14, 2009

Earlier this week, Mayor Bill White used CitizensNet to distribute a letter addressed to residents of the Washington Avenue Coalition - Memorial Park Super Neighborhood (SN 22) regarding a controversy surrounding the Spec's Liquor and Fine Foods store on Washington Avenue at Westcott. Because that letter did not describe efforts that the SN council is making to build community consensus on how best to resolve this controversy, the SN leadership respectfully requested Mayor White to distribute a clarification letter, and Mayor White graciously granted that request. That letter follows:

Super Neighborhood Residents #22,

Because Spec's Washington Avenue store is located less than 1,000 ft. from Memorial Elementary School, the city's alcohol free school zone law requires the store's sale of alcohol to be less than 50% of its total sales. Because the store's sale of alcohol is not less than 50% of its total sales, the store's owners are seeking passage of an ordinance that would exempt the store from having to comply with the city's alcohol free school zone law. Mayor White has said that he will bring such an ordinance forward for a vote of City Council if the surrounding neighborhoods express support for such an ordinance.

On Monday, May 11, 2009, SN 22 held its monthly meeting at which the City Attorney, Arturo Michel, an assistant county attorney, Linda Geffin, Spec's owner, John Rydman, State Senator Mario Gallegos and community liaison, Ruben Landa, all presented their versions of the facts and the law surrounding the issue of Spec's store on Washington Avenue, answered questions from the audience, and agreed to provide additional information to the SN's constituent civic clubs should additional information be requested.

Unfortunately, Mr. Rydman rejected as financially infeasible, a suggestion from community members that Spec's resolve the issue by confining its sale of distilled spirits to Spec's Memorial Drive store which is only blocks away from its Washington Avenue store, and increasing the food offerings at its Washington Avenue store such that the sale of alcohol at that store would be less than 50% and the store would then be in compliance with the city's alcohol free school zone law.

Because the SN council is composed of representatives from constituent civic clubs, the SN council agreed to defer any decision to support, oppose, or remain neutral on Spec's effort to persuade Mayor White and City Council to pass a special ordinance to exempt its Washington Avenue store from having to comply with the city's alcohol free school zone law until the SN representatives have had time to take the information presented at the May 11th meeting back to their organizations and ask/allow each organization to decide individually to support Spec's effort, oppose it, or remain neutral. The individual SN council members were asked to report back to the SN at its next meeting which will be held on June 8th.

Since SN 22 is in the midst of an on-going effort to persuade Mayor White to enforce and strengthen laws and regulations aimed at controlling traffic, parking, noise, and other nuisances that have recently arisen from the largely unregulated development of nightclubs and restaurants in the Washington Avenue Corridor, the issues raised by Spec's effort to obtain a special ordinance that will exempt its Washington Avenue store from having to comply with the city's alcohol free school zone law deserve reflective rather than pressured decisions made with full knowledge of the facts, the options, and the likely consequences. In order to aid the decision-making process, SN 22 would like all interested parties to have available three documents which were made available at its May 11th meeting: (1) A petition form that Spec's is asking supporters to sign; (2) a letter that the City Attorney is distributing to citizens who contact the administration about this issue; and (3) a "fact sheet" that has been prepared and distributed by the County Attorney's office. These three documents may be read at the following web site:  http://www.houstontx.gov/planning/suprnbhds/TechCntrInfo/SN_22.htm

The next SN 22 meeting will be held on Monday, June 8, 2009, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the West End Multi-Service Center, 170 Heights Blvd. Please plan to attend.

In the meantime, SN 22 will continue to seek an amicable resolution to this controversy and will encourage interested individuals to contact their local civic club leaders and/or SN 22 at superneighborhood22@gmail.com to receive additional information, suggest a compromise, or express an opinion.

Thanks,

Jane Cahill West
President, SN 22