PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A proposal for an upscale wine bar and video gaming parlor in the Lake of the Woods Plaza has caused many in his far north Peoria neighborhood to cry foul, saying such an establishment has no place in the shopping center or in their neighborhood.

Next week, the Peoria County Board‘s land use committee will take up the matter, a few weeks after the Zoning Board of Appeals voted to grant it a variance, or an exception from the rules that it’s too close to the several apartment complexes in the area, duplexes and homes.

“First of all, to be able to have this location, you have to get a variance, so there are laws which state a bar would not be within 500 feet of any residence. This is also an area that is a bottleneck of apartments and residential locations where there are a lot of children. . . we feel it’s a safety issue,” said Kris McClelland, who lives in the nearby Cedar Bluff Estates, who added a petition with more than 200 signatures on it.

The business, dubbed the “Lucky 7 Lounge” in county documents, would occupy the southeastern portion of the shopping center, which was once a bank. And it sits a stone’s throw from four homes and duplexes across North Woodcrest Drive. There’s a bus stop that is used by  kids in the neighborhood that was once literally on the business’s door step. Now, it’s about 30 feet away at a nearby bush.

Tim Beddingfield, a pastor from Cedar Hills Baptist Church and also a bus driver for Dunlap Community Unit School District 323, said, “Alcohol and kids don’t mix. Gambling and kids don’t mix. In my opinion, they don’t mix with adults really well, but the reality is that you are talking 50 feet from the front door of a liquor establishment is your bus stop and the only optionable bus stop for those kids.”

Beddingfield noted the way Woodcrest Drive is laid out, there’s no alternative for the children as the street ends in a cul-de-sac and there’s no place for a bus to turn around. Now, the bus drives through the shopping center, stops near the vacant unit and picks up the children before turning around and heading back through the center’s parking lot and out of the area.

Moving the stop a bit farther away doesn’t help. 

“It’s not going to solve the issue and the problem that I have is that we have a liquor establishment and every child that goes to the bus stop has to pass by that,” he said.

An attempt to reach the shopping center’s owner, Ravikumar Patel, was not immediately successful. Mitch LaHood, who is the property manager of the facility, said, “the school bus stop has been stopping here for a while and we will work with the Dunlap School District that is both safe for the kids and good for the building.”

LaHood said Patel is “willing to do everything he can to both help the neighbors and the business. He is trying to get a win-win.”

Doing through the application packet, Patel states he believes traffic will not be affected. The wine-bar/gaming café would be open from 9 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday, he stated in his petition. Storefront signage, the packet said, would be similar to what is in the shopping center now.

Patel said in the packet that the proposed bar would “mirror our Lucky 7 Lounge business location in Peoria Heights which is a smoke shop and a video gaming lounge.” He added later that “this location will not be a typical ‘bar’ type of a location.”

Rather, he said, the request for a liquor license was only to comply with state law to get a video gaming license. Patel believed the location could bring in about $5,000 to $10,000 for taxing bodies annually from gaming revenue.

Steve Rieker, the county board member who represents that area, said he’s tried to remain neutral so far so residents can get their voices heard.

“I am pro-business so I have to put my pro-business hat on,” he said. “I don’t want to be the one who restricts small businesses from operating. (Residents’) concerns are that (the wine bar) doesn’t reflect what they want their neighborhood to be.”

A few weeks ago, the matter came up at a Medina Township meeting and then at the ZBA. In previous incarnations, the owner wanted to put a vape shop but opted to change to a wine bar after vocal opposition; a move that Rieker said was likely a good one. Rieker said the packaging of the liquor sales with the video gambling was a product of the state regulations which require the two.

The matter had to go before the ZBA as Patel needed a variance or an exception to zoning rules that prohibit a liquor establishment within 500 feet of a residence. That request was approved unanimously on May 11.

McClelland called it a “rubber stamp” as she felt the people on that panel didn’t listen to the objections.

But Andrew Braun, the county’s assistant director of planning and zoning, said the ZBA has to consider certain factors when they are holding their public hearing. At that hearing, they make a finding of fact after hearing from all sides regarding their recommendation on approval or denial.

The next step is the county’s Land Use Committee which will meet on Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. There, county board members who sit on the committee — Rieker doesn’t — will hear about the plan and offer up a recommendation for the full board which next meets on June 8.

Braun said for the land-use committee to deny a recommendation or even the full county board to do so, they’d need to outline why, in their opinion, the ZBA was wrong when it found the proposal met the county’s requirements.

If the board were to approve at their June 8 meeting, Patel would still have to obtain a building permit, a liquor license, and a state gaming license, Braun said.