Neighbors strike deal with 23rd St. business over controversial bid for liquor license

Neighbors strike deal with 23rd St. business over controversial bid for liquor license
El Campasino Market shut down last fall in order to transition from a market into a full-scale restaurant.

Neighbors from the Richmore Village/Metro Square neighborhood appealed a Planning Commission decision to grant a liquor license to El Campesino Market on 23rd St., citing concerns from police that the property has been a crime magnet.

Earlier this month, however, the neighbors met with one of the family members who own the business at 232 23rd St., which intends to transition from a market to an authentic Mexican restaurant that serves margaritas. The both parties struck a deal they believe will ensure the property doesn’t invite crime.

On Tuesday night, Richmond City Council approved the proposed agreement, which will force the business owner to kick out a troubled car stereo business on 24th Street that shares the property with El Campesino. The agreement also requires the business to operate as an eatery without incident for six months before receiving a liquor license.

El Campesino closed in November in order to transition from a grocery market with a small eatery into a full-scale restaurant. The business also asked the city to amend its alcoholic beverage license to include liquor as well as wine and beer, and to extend its hours to 1 a.m. from the current 8 p.m. closing mandate.

The plan met stern opposition from police, neighbors and representatives of service organizations in the neighborhood that assist people with substance abuse problems. The Police Department opposed “the entire application” due to the property’s troubled past in the community that includes allegations of gang activity.

Despite the opposition, members of the Planning Commission, citing a need for more nightlife in the downtown Richmond corridor, struck a compromise. It approved El Campesino’s liquor license on the condition that the business be allowed to stay open until 10 p.m. rather than the requested 1 a.m.

Neighbors did not believe that decision went far enough to ensure neighborhood safety and filed an appeal.

But on March 3, residents met with El Campesino owner Ignacio Bermudez to hash out another compromise.

As part of the deal, Bermudez agreed to terminate the lease of the car stereo shop that shares the building with El Campesino, as neighbors and police say it has been the main source of crime and disturbances in the area.

Also, Bermudez reportedly agreed to operate his family’s restaurant with only a wine and beer license for six months. If the restaurant is incident-free during that period, residents say they will support allowing El Campesino to serve liquor.

Under the agreement, El Campesino would immediately be allowed to open until 10 p.m.

If Richmond City Council approves the agreement Tuesday night, neighbors say they will withdraw their appeal.