Grocery store denied liquor license in area near elementary school

By Eric Chima

The Urbana City Council voted unanimously Monday to deny a special use permit that would have allowed a grocery store to sell liquor in the neighborhood of an elementary school, a home day care and a veterans’ affairs care center.

Charlie Smythe, D-Ward 1, estimated that 45 people were in attendance, nearly all to oppose allowing the store to obtain a liquor license. Several spoke against the store, including King School Principal Jennifer Ivory-Tatum and Melanie Traxler, a teacher. The school is located approximately 590 feet from where the store would have opened.

The planned owner of the store, Ibraham Udeh of the Happy Brothers Nine Corporation, said he did not even come to the meeting because he felt the issue had already been decided.

“When I applied for the special use permit, I was told by city staff that this shouldn’t be a big problem,” Udeh said. “I was shocked by the reaction … people seemed like they were against me personally.”

The speakers at the meeting emphasized the importance of protecting the children that live near the store, attend the elementary school and play in the neighboring King Park.

“You have made a profound statement about what comes first, a business or our children,” said Councilman Robert Lewis, D-Ward 3. “Our children come first, and we must act on this.”

Udeh said he was hurt by the sentiment against him and that he felt he was unfairly compared to other store owners who did not relate to his own case.

“This was really disappointing for me,” Udeh said. “I’m just trying to invest some money in Urbana. I already have a store in (Decatur), and they welcomed me to invest my money.”

At the beginning of the meeting, five members of the Champaign-Urbana Smoke F`ree Alliance addressed the council. Director of Communications for the Alliance Matt Varble said the group came to the Urbana council because the issue had reached a standstill in Champaign, where a smoking ban failed by a 5-4 vote in September.

“We came to Urbana to ask the city to assume a leadership position on this issue,” Varble said. “It’s not a question of if (a smoking ban passes), it’s a matter of when.”