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Controversial liquor license approved

Posted: Thursday, Feb 21st, 2013

Carly Harmon, left, and Donnie Bautista, right, outline their plans for a new liquor store in Mosca. County commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a one-year liquor license for the business. Courier photo by Rudy Herndon

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Mosca-area residents might be divided over a couple’s plans to open a high-end liquor store in their community, but Alamosa County commissioners are not.

The board voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a one-year liquor license for Dune View Spirits, which will eventually set up shop inside the old Zip Code Café building on Highway 17.

Commissioners previously tabled the matter in order to gather more information from the county’s land use office, based on feedback from Mosca-area residents who attended their Jan. 9 meeting.

Some of those residents, including Chester Jones, showed up at yesterday’s meeting to repeat their objections to the request for a license.

But county officials, including Land Use Manager Juan Altamirano, ultimately found that the applicants’ plans fit within the area’s permitted uses, as well as the county’s master plan.

Commission Chair Darius Allen reviewed the list of hurdles that applicants Donnie Bautista and Carly Harmon had to meet, and he found that the couple cleared every one of them.

“I feel like what they’ve had in place there is everything that they needed, and it’s in accordance with all of the rules and regulations of the State of Colorado,” Allen said.

It’s in their own interests, he said, to comply with any and all laws.

By Allen’s estimates, the couple has poured $35,000 to $40,000 into the project, and they’re unlikely to jeopardize that outlay by getting on a regulator’s bad side.

“If they foul up one time, they’re going to lose their whole investment immediately. I’ve seen it happen across the state,” he said.

When Commissioner Michael Yohn took a closer look at the applicants’ plans to renovate a vacant building and open a new business, he reached the conclusion that they would benefit Mosca.

“I don’t see it putting any burden on the community there, so to speak,” Yohn said. “I’ve looked at it, and I see it as a plus. I’ve looked at (their) other business and patronized it, and appreciated it.”

Commissioner Marianne Dunne predicted that any concerns about the liquor store would be short-lived.

“I think the fears of the community will be alleviated as the year goes by,” she said.

Dunne also disagreed with license opponent Kay Jones, who questioned whether the licensing issue boiled down to a matter of money for Alamosa County and the town of Mosca.

“I think that our decision really has nothing to do with any kind of revenues that the County of Alamosa will get,” Dunne said. “It has to do with the fact that in our nation (and) in our state, this young couple have a right to open a business.”

That young couple currently helps Harmon’s family run the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool. According to Bautista, they settled on the idea of opening Dune View Spirits once they realized there was a strong demand from residents and visitors alike.

“It’s a goal of ours to open up and provide something that the community can definitely use, as well as the tourists that come into the San Luis Valley,” he said.

While the store will sell a variety of nationally known brands, Bautista said the couple plans to feature products from Colorado’s many microbreweries, wineries and distilleries.

“That is what we want to gear our business to — to keep it here in the state of Colorado,” he said.

Needless to say, the store will remain strictly off-limits to people under the age of 21.

Both applicants highlighted their combined years of experience working in the restaurant management field, telling commissioners that they’re well versed in liquor laws. They also plan to staff Dune View Spirits with two trusted and experienced employees.

Down the road, they’re eyeing the possibility of opening another business; Bautista mentioned a wood-fired pizzeria and a brewery as one such option.

But right now, they’re just hoping to open Dune View Spirits.

That’s good enough for potato industry leader John McCormick.

“Any time we have a new business come in to Alamosa, we need to embrace that business,” McCormick said.

“We need dreamers. We need people that get involved in the community.”

Center resident Carla Gomez, who previously owned a liquor store with her husband, called small businesses the backbone of the economy.

“That is what makes healthy communities. It supports the communities,” she said.

County resident Ron Brink saw the benefits that just one new job could bring to the community.

“Every one of those is way better for this community than those people being unemployed and having to look for work and be a burden on the county,” Brink said.

“I can understand what the people that are against (it are saying), but I really think that whatever opportunity we have for more retail business in this county and community really does help.”

For the license’s opponents, though, the issue of alcohol abuse outweighed any potential upsides to the project.

Chester Jones has lived in Mosca for the past 46 years, and he told the board that he appreciates its peaceful and quiet community atmosphere.

“It is not easy for me to think that this quiet little town could develop the reputation of a liquor stop for many, and it appears that the overwhelming, cumulative sentiment of the residents agree with this stance,” Jones said.

According to Jones, 66 people signed a new petition opposing the liquor license request, including 52 residents who live within a one-mile radius of Mosca.

“By sheer numbers, it is obvious to me that the community of residents living within a one-mile radius of Mosca and who do not desire to see this business established outnumber the in-favor residents by more than four to one,” he said.

In comparison, a previous petition found that 30 out of 33 people support the applicants’ request. Yet according to Jones, most of those people live in other communities.

“Anybody can sign a petition, but we have to live there,” he said.

Other opponents include Mosca resident LaVona Heide, who spoke out against the liquor license request on behalf of herself, her husband and some of her neighbors.

“We have lived there so long that we know most of the people that come and go, and I just have not met (the applicants), either in our little community church or our school programs and things like that,” she said. “I’m not sure, you know, what part they would play in our community.”

Kay Jones told the board that she believes the opposition is based upon the history of alcohol abuse throughout the Valley.

“All of us moved to Mosca because it’s a nice, quiet community, and … if we lost one person or one child because of alcohol consumption in that community, it’s too many,” she said.

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