A plan to add a liquor store/bar in Horizon West met resistance during an Orange County community meeting Wednesday, Oct. 4, at Hamlin Middle School.
A developer is seeking to construct Stoneybrook Liquors on 4.2 acres north of Porter Road and west of Hamlin Groves Trail. According to planning documents, the project will measure 15,829 square feet and include two levels, an outdoor balcony and patio.
Stoneybrook Liquors is the first phase of a larger project. Phase two is set to include a dental office, which is still under review. There also are future phases to be determined.
Orange County Planner Tiffany Chen said the county received the project in May.
The retail building is located on the north side of the parcel, with surface parking to the south. Although there will be multiple entrances, the main entrance is on the south elevation facing the parking lot, which will have 53 parking spaces.
The west façade faces a residential area, the east faces Hamlin Groves Trail, and the north faces Calamondin Drive. The patios would face to the east and south.
The height of the building is a little more than 34 feet, and the project sports white brick décor with metal accents and windows on all sides.
Applicant representative Curt Gashlin, of Kelly, Collins & Gentry, said the hours of operation have not yet been determined, nor has the possibility of live music or events.
Scott Gentry, civil engineer on the project from KCG, said the building is mixed-use.
“There will be a restaurant in the building,” he said. “There will also be a wine and spirits store inside of the building; it’s not going to be a nightclub. There is a bar up there that’s going to be like a high-end facility for the restaurant; to buy nice wines and spirits, and a place where you can sit out and smoke a cigar or drink a glass of wine, but it’s more of a professional atmosphere.”
The county requires liquor stores to be separated from other liquor stores by a minimum distance of 5,000 feet. Alcohol and beverage sales must be a minimum of 1,000 feet from schools and churches. However, there are no regulations on how close any place that sells alcohol can be to a residential area.
“This is Horizon West, and the whole vision of Horizon West is to have mixed-use,” Gentry said. “It’s to have theaters, multi-family and single-family townhomes, restaurants, offices, everything intermixed. In the Town Center, which is the coolest part and it’s getting cooler every day … it’s the heart … the commercial center of Horizon West. That’s the nature of this.”
Resident Rebecca Wolfe said the proposed location is not only near the neighborhood but rather actually in it. She said this distinction is key, because the project’s approval would put a liquor store directly next to homes with access using the neighborhood roads.
“We residents like the idea of the proposed new business; we are simply and vehemently against the proposed placement,” she said. “It would be inappropriate, incorrect and wrong for this business to be placed directly in the Hamlin Reserve neighborhood. It would negatively impact the quality of life for our residents. Noise, traffic, light, cigar smoke and people driving through our neighborhood — many of whom will have consumed alcohol.
“Although the long-ago zoning for this section of land includes the option of a liquor and tobacco selling business, that does not mean placing such a business at this location is appropriate,” Wolfe said. “Rather, any one of a number of other, appropriate within-a-neighborhood businesses could and should be built at this location.”
Wolfe said she was concerned by the lack of answers the applicant provided to many of residents’ questions.
Resident Henry Butts agreed with Wolfe and said he and many other residents left the meeting feeling misled — especially when essential questions were left unanswered.
“My family moved here in 2018, drawn by our family-friendly environment,” he said. “The potential establishment of a liquor store and cigar bar, particularly near our children’s park and homes, raises concerns in my view. I believe there are compelling reasons to reconsider these adult-themed businesses.”
Butts cited concerns such as increased crime and violence, alcohol- and substance-related issues and the impact on quality of life.
“It’s important to note that the area was zoned for ‘mixed use’ a decade ago, when there were no homes here,” he said. “Given the significant changes in our community over the past decade, I believe it’s essential to revisit and update our zoning regulations. It’s crucial to emphasize that no child should have to walk past a liquor store every day to go to the park.”
Residents Brad and Ann Morris said they were shocked the business would want to be located where it is proposed.
“Hamlin Reserve is one of several housing developments in the Hamlin master community,” Brad Morris said. “What makes it a little different than some others is the lower cost of entry compared to the other communities and the combination of single-family homes, townhouses and condos. As such, our development has a greater percentage of young families, for many of which this is their first family home. We welcome these businesses to our master community. We would probably frequent the liquor store as we do their location on Marsh Road. However, with many, many open sites available for building, this location seemed the very worst possible location. It is a long way from where the other retail and restaurants are in the Town Center, completely surrounded by single-family homes and a park.”
Brad Morris said he believes the public meeting held was “insulting and pointless.”
“As residents, it became readily apparent that we have no control of what businesses go into the community once the zoning was approved before we even arrived,” he said. “We thought we were being asked for our opinion. The county was just checking the box that said a meeting was held. ... What added insult to injury was the fact that the representative from Stoneybrook Liquors DP took the opportunity to ... lie to us when questions were asked. He knew the answers, some of which were even available in the documents that were shared. Instead, he just kept repeating, ‘That hasn’t been determined yet.’”
Not all residents oppose the project.
“I feel like what it’s doing is exactly what I was told when I first moved here, which is that this is going to be a mixed-use area, like Baldwin Park,” a resident said. “There are schools, there are homes, there’s bars, there’s all these things all next to each other, and they work.”
The project will go next to the Development Review Committee, although a meeting date has not yet been scheduled.