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Luna seeks to close store, start speak-outs at meetings

Date: 8/23/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – City Councilor Zaida Luna is seeking a way for citizens to bring their concerns about establishments that sell alcohol to the Board of License Commissioners.

Luna met with the press on Aug. 15 outside of Christopher’s Package Store at 2803 Main St. to declare her intentions to pursue a revocation of the license for the store.

“People are fed up with it,” Luna said. She said she gets “numerous calls” from constituents about the store, which was the location of a fatal shootout in 2009 and a shooting on Aug. 13.

Luna charged, “This business is destroying the neighborhood, but also is destroying other businesses.”

She added there is always trash on the property and frequently people are seen drinking in the parking lot. Luna has assembled police reports on the store and noted the ambulances come there frequently to pick up people who are intoxicated.

John Hess of Longmeadow, the owner of the store, said that he has been doing business at the location for more than 25 years and he believes the neighborhood has gotten “quite a bit better.”

Hess said he doesn’t allow loitering on his property and he keeps it as clean as he can.

He added that drug dealing is all over the city and “we don’t have drug dealers in the parking lot doing their business.”

Hess said he wasn’t sure why the recent shooting Luna referenced on Hooker Street was linked to his business.

Believing that Luna’s statements are part of her re-election efforts, Hess said he wasn’t “going to get into a back and forth with her.”

He added that his business is being used as a “scapegoat” by Luna.

Luna confirmed it is the only package store in the Main Street corridor in the North End and the next closest is at the Pride plaza near the North End bridge.

Although Luna said she would speak with the Board of License Commissioners at its Aug. 15 meeting, she was not allowed to because she was not on the agenda.

Because she was denied the opportunity to speak – the Board of License Commissioners does not have a public speak-out as part of its meetings – Luna is now asking Mayor Domenic Sarno to help establish a vehicle for citizens to voice concerns to boards and commissions.

Luna wrote the mayor, “The chairman of the License Commission, Peter Sygnator, would not allow me to speak claiming I was a private citizen and the issue I was addressing was not on the agenda. Since the commission does not offer a public speak-out or hours when the commissioners are available to meet with the public, I really didn’t have any other option.”

She continued, “Mayor, we need a more effective way to allow our citizens to make their concerns known. The number of registered voters in Springfield who actually vote in a local election is quite low when compared too many of our surrounding communities. Even in something as important as locating a casino in the city only 26 percent of the registered voters cast their ballots. The lack of significant citizen participation in government might just be why. Perhaps we should require every city commission, committee, and authority to offer speak time on a regular basis.”

She also charged that Sygnator did not treat her well and said, “I can only wonder if Mr. Sygnator treats all members of the public with such a demeaning attitude or whether he simply reserves it for Hispanic females. I don’t think Mr. Sygnator would accept the same activities that occur on a regular basis at Christopher’s in his neighborhood without complaining. I am sure however, that the owner of said package store, who lives in Longmeadow, would not be allowed to continue operating in his neighborhood the way he does in the North End of Springfield.”