The state rejected Roshan Patel’s efforts to sell booze in the Annex neighborhood, not because of all the complaints from neighbors—but because New Haven had reached a little-known state-calculated limit for the number of liquor stores allowed within its boundaries.
Meanwhile, across town, a Westville Village landlord who beat Patel out for the last permit (by one day) has since seen her own plans dashed, and may end up opening her liquor store instead ... over in the Annex.
The two neighborhood liquor-store dramas came to a a head in recent weeks. Unbeknownst to the players involved, the two dramas were connected. It turns out that confusion among government officials complicated the mess further.
The Annex Drama
Patel missed out on the city’s last permit by a single day.
For months Patel had been in a battle with Annex neighbors who did not want him to open up a package store, Gemstore Liquors at his 222 Farren Ave. property, arguing it would increase crime in the area. State and city officials told neighbors that, basically, “you can’t stop him.”
Now, suddenly, because of the state limit, neighbors have their wish granted, and Patel has to figure out what else he will do with the space.
Annex neighbors gathered at Walk of Faith Church on Fairmont Avenue earlier this month to celebrate the news with sparkling cider and slices of red velvet cake.
Walk of Faith Pastor Walter Williams said the process dragged on longer than neighbors thought it would. Patel submitted his application using the name “B Gemstone Liquors” instead of the accurate name “Gemstone Liquors LLC.” In January, the state asked him to resubmit using the correct name. Neighbors then had to refile their “remonstrances” (reasons for opposition), pushing back the process further.
Then “we were waiting for the hearing process. But instead, they withdrew,” he said.
Neighbors received a letter from the Department of Consumer Protection stating, “The application has since been withdrawn.” But the letter did not contain a reason for the withdrawal.
The Westville Drama
The reason had nothing to do with the neighbors’ consistent complaints. Patel couldn’t get a permit because the city had reached a state-calculated limit for the number of liquor stores allowed within its boundaries.
According to state statute, Department of Consumer Protection can issue one package store permit for every 2,500 residents of a town as determined every 10 years by the federal census. That means 51 permits for 129,799 people, based on the 2010 census. (The city’s population has since grown.)
Who took the last permit before Patel?
That story is a bit tricky, according to local zoning officials and to documents the Independent obtained from state liquor control through a Freedom of Information request.
And it involves a complicated tenant-landlord dispute across town in Westville.
State liquor control director John Suchy detailed the series of events in a letter accompanying the documents.
Dayalal Mehta, the landlord of 837 Whalley Ave. in Westville Village, applied for a package store permit at 3:17 p.m. on July 16, 2014, less than a full day before Roshan Patel filed his original application.
New Haven’s Deputy Director of Zoning Tom Talbot signed off on Mehta’s initial request for a permit, because he saw that the location was already zoned for a liquor license. “I’m obligated to sign off on it,” he said.
The state had already granted a license for a liquor store at that address. Sanjay Patil had the license, to run his Westville Wines store in the building, as a tenant. So when Mehta’s application came through, officials assumed Mehta would buy Patel’s liquor store and take over the permit.
But little did Suchy know that Mehta and Sanjay Patil, who apparently were close friends, were having an ongoing dispute over a lease agreement for the property at 837 Whalley Ave. And they were soon going to part ways and become competitors.
Sanjay Patil had been leasing the space for the last three years. The first year of his lease, he was paying nearly $4,000 in rent, but in subsequent years, his nephew and store manager Kishmore Ammisetti said, his uncle had a verbal agreement with the landlord to pay $3,450.
“The $4,000 is a lot to pay considering there is only one parking space there,” he said.
Ammisetti said there were disputes about when the rent was due, and then about the late fees imposed, which Amisetti said would be northwards of $300. He said that his relatives consider the Mehtas “like family,” and despite the disputes were looking to sell the business to the Mehtas. But they couldn’t strike a deal.
Sanjay Patil (no relation to the gas-station clerk Sanjay Patel who was shot to death in the Annex in April) decided not to sell his business to his landlord. Instead, he applied March 9 to move his existing permit right across the street to 864 Whalley Ave. next to the Dunkin Donuts. The Liquor Commission approved the move, according to Suchy.
Sanjay Patil (pictured), also the owner of College Wine on Church Street, acknowledged in an interview that he was evicted from the space but said he did not owe any back rent.
According to state law, the holder of an existing package store permit can obtain approval to move the permit to another location within 750 feet, as long as local zoning law is followed. So Sanjay Patil was able to move his store—which planned a soft opening this Friday.
But Sanjay Patil’s permit was now about 400 feet away from his former location, where Mehta was hoping to get a permit.
Local zoning law prohibits liquor permits from being within 1,500 feet of each other. That meant that Mehta’s plans to open her own liquor outlet were now in jeopardy.
Talbot noticed “two placards up for two package stores” and realized there was something wrong.
“That means 837 Whalley is no longer a store you can put a package store in,” he said. “It’s no longer eligible for a permit.” He said this kind of conflict between landlord and tenant is rare—he hadn’t seen anything like it before.
So Talbot told Mehta she would have to find a new spot elsewhere for her liquor store. Talbot said he signed off on two different locations for Mehta Wednesday—192 Forbes Ave. (back across town in the Annex neighborhood) and 1505 State St.. Both locations are more than 1,500 feet away from any other liquor permit. The store will be called “Grapes and Grains,” according to the application filed.
Mehta applied for a provisional permit March 17 and now has a “For Rent” sign up in the window of 837 Whalley Ave. She did not respond to multiple calls for comment on what she planned to do with the property.
The Independent called the number on the property’s window and spoke to a woman named Wendy (who declined to give her last name). According to Wendy, Sanjay Patil “chose to renege on a handshake” and decided not to sell his property to Mehta. She said he should not legally have the liquor permit for Westville Wine because he owed his landlord money. “If you don’t pay your rent, then you can’t just up and leave,” she said. “You owe people money. That doesn’t mean you can just get up and leave and go somewhere else.”
She said Mehta plans to file a remonstrance against him.
The problem in the process, she said, is that the “state doesn’t know what the city is doing” when it approves or denies liquor permits. And the state is inept at tracking the number of permits it has already given out, she said.
“When I applied for the permit, there were two available,” she said. “They don’t have a proper system.”
Seeking a “Fair Fight”
The state has since declined to comment further on the situation.
Liquor control spokesperson Claudette Corveth sent the Independent an email message Thursday afternoon saying: “The Department is currently still reviewing the status and availability of package store permits in the city of New Haven. While this review continues, we will refrain from making further public comments, so as to ensure that the information we provide is accurate and timely. While we understand and respect the paper’s publishing deadline, we believe that this is the best course of action.”
Meanwhile, back in the Annex, Roshan Patel said he is still figuring out what he will do with the property at 222 Farren Ave., which he owns. He said he spent at least $25,000 renovating the space, while the state kept his permit application in limbo for months.
“We paid for an extra provisional permit. We were renovating the building. If they had told us at the beginning [that there were no more permits], we would have not done much with the building at the moment,” he said.
Williams said he plans to reach out to Roshan Patel to “have a conversation about his plans for the property.”
And the experience is encouraging Annex neighbors to get together more often to “be updated on things happening in the neighborhood,” Williams said, “so we can work together to police the neighborhood.
Tom Burwell, co-chair of Ward 14, suggested connecting with established organizations nearby such as the Quinnipiac River Community Group.
Roshan Patel said he would have liked a “fair fight” in order to present his side to the state against critical neighbors. He said he still does not understand why he was notified so late. According to a series of e-mails the Independent received through a Freedom of Information request, Suchy wrote to Roshan Patel April 21 ordering him to withdraw his application.
Suchy wrote in the e-mail: “Mr. Patel, I spoke with you almost 13 days ago. I told you then that your application came in too late, and that there were no permits available for you. I know that your consultant has told you the same thing. I need a letter of withdrawal from you. You are ineligible for this permit.”
Roshan Patel responded a few days later asking to speak with Suchy by phone before he withdrew. “I felt I got left in the dark regarding this whole application process and I have some questions regarding that,” he wrote. He told the Independent that Suchy explained the reasoning to him after he had withdrawn his application.
“It’s the end of our application for now,” Patel told this reporter. Next, he needs to decide on a use for the space.
Based on 2013 census numbers, a bump in population to 130,660 would allow 52 permits in New Haven. If the state used those numbers instead of the federal decennial census numbers, Roshan Patel would have still made the cut, barely, despite the confusion about the liquor-store maneuverings across town in Westville.
Markeshia Ricks contributed reporting.
For previous coverage:
•Neighbors Weigh Picketing New Liquor Store
•Annex Neighbors Not Giving Up On Liquor Store
•Neighbors Battle 2nd Farren Avenue Liquor Permit
•Annex Neighbors Win One Liquor Fight