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Windermere corks new wine shop

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Lucy Dillon


Monday, May 20, 2024


Paul Morrison/VoxPopuli

Windermere's town council denied the couple behind the forthcoming wine market-cum-restaurant Solvino a permit to sell wine by the glass, stating they don't want more town businesses serving alcohol. But even without a permit, state law allows Solvino to pour quite a bit of wine samples.

Most folks know when they’ve reached their alcohol limit. The Town of Windermere just said when.

Citing overwhelming community opposition, the town council last week voted unanimously to deny the zoning variance sought by Arjun and Sara Kumar to sell wine by the glass at Solvino, the elite wine market-cum-restaurant they will be opening in the new “500 Block” development. 

The vote was taken during a quasi-judicial hearing held during the regular town council meeting. Council member Andy Williams recused himself because he owns an adjacent property.

Council members said they were inundated by calls, emails and texts from residents who do not want more establishments serving alcohol in the downtown area. Currently, five downtown businesses, including Dixie Cream and Pizza 14, serve alcohol.

“It’s not that people don’t drink wine,” said Council Member Tom Stroup, who suggested the Kumars' request presented something of a public safety and welfare issue. “If five of the six businesses are serving alcohol, hypothetically, 95 percent of the people who leave one of these businesses have had something to drink."

“I don’t think I spoke to one who was in support of this,” said Council Member Tony Davit, recalling the many conversations he said had with residents about this issue. Meeting attendees fervently nodded their heads in agreement; one clapped in appreciation.

The council was not swayed by the thought that Solvino would bring additional revenue to the town in the form of visitors — and rejected the idea that the Kumars, who live in Keene’s Pointe, are town residents.  (Many neighborhoods that are Windermere-adjacent, like Isleworth, are not technically part of the tiny Town of Windermere.)

“Our town is small. We’re quaint. And we don’t like a lot of people coming in,” said Council Member Mandy David, whose own neighborhood, The Manors, faced resistance from the town before it was finally annexed into Windermere in 2001. 

“Your clients are trying to bring in different people, and that’s where we’ve had issues in the past,” she added, referring to complaints the council has received about cars parked in front of homes and trash left in yards after town events.

The Kumars had requested the variance because Windermere’s town code (section 8-82) states that businesses that sell alcohol by the glass cannot be located within 1,000 feet of an “established church, school or any other such place of business wherein consumption on premises is permitted.” However, waivers can be granted through a process in the town’s Land Development Code, and the council had the authority to approve a consumptive use permit with a majority vote.

The Kumars were unable to attend the council meeting because of family obligations out of state. But they sent a short video, featuring their family and a peek at Solvino's interiors,  with Attorney Kara Groves of the Longwood law firm Brewer and Long, as their surrogate.

In her presentation to the council, Groves said that the Kumars wanted to create something different so they did not compete directly with longtime Windermere business Tim’s Wine Market. Groves said the market-cum-restaurant would offer higher-priced wines along with light fare without the promotional deals found at Tim’s. To do that, they needed the by-the-glass sales for additional revenue. Without the permit, she said, Solvino would have no choice but to shift its business model to compete directly with Tim’s, offering value wines and sales promotions.

Groves argued that denying the consumptive-use permit would be an attempt at “market control that is inconsistent with the standard of review that this council is bound by.” She said “the government should not be trying to control the community to decide what’s best for it.” Even putting aside the list of 1,300 customers that Groves said the Kumars had for their operation, she said, “The market will prove itself. The community will put their money where their mouth is. That is the spirit of a capitalist society.”

As she wrapped up, Groves made clear to council members that denying the permit would not alleviate their stated concerns about increasing the number of downtown businesses serving alcohol. Even without a permit, she said, Solvino can still pour a fair bit of wine for its customers. 

“That is state law," she said. "We can still provide a certain amount of samples on site. And that’s just the reality of the situation.”

Groves explained to the council how they might change their ordinances to cap alcohol permits to prevent additional businesses from requesting alcohol sales permits in the future. But until then, she pointed out that neither the council nor any residents had “presented any objective evidence” — such as an increase in crime that could be tied back to alcohol consumption or an increase in citations for public drunkenness — “that there are already existing safety and security issues.”

Nonethelesss, the council was unmoved.

“The 1,000-feet laws exist for a reason,” said Council Member Brandi Haines before she made the motion to deny the Kumars’ application.

“If every building in town had a liquor license or a consumption license then we would be a — I hate to throw them under the bus — but we would be that place with the big silver ball,” Haines continued, referring to Epcot’s World Showcase Pavilion.

In a brief interview following the vote, Groves told VoxPopuli that the council’s decision was “unusual for a wine retailer.” She said the Kumars may appeal.

“The idea that We don’t want six or seven or eight [businesses serving alcohol], they’re coming. It’s going to happen anyway,” Groves said. “In Florida there are really favorable dram shop laws, so it’s hard for a retailer to get into trouble for overserving. But that’s why you have those safe-serve programs. And their license gets revoked. Enforcement from the ABT [Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco], the state agency that deals with this, they come under cover all the time.”

Meanwhile, Solvino will open, Groves said. “They’re gonna do it,” she said of the Kumars. “I mean, they already signed a lease.”

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