Centerville church fights Sheetz store; March ballot will include liquor vote

City of Centerville first approved, then rejected gas station/convenience store chain; Elsa’s restaurant stays open there for now; lawsuit over city ruling continues

CENTERVILLE — The prospect of a Sheetz gas station and convenience store coming to Centerville recently propelled an area church to launch two ballot initiatives to block carryout alcohol sales at the site. And a lawsuit about whether Sheetz can even build there continues.

Voters in Centerville Precinct N, which includes the proposed Sheetz at 6318 Far Hills Ave., will have two local liquor option votes on the March 19 ballot. Precinct N includes all of the Bethany retirement community across Far Hills, all of the apartments along Fireside Drive, and some of the single-family homes in the neighborhood to the east of the site.

If those voters approve Local Option 5-A, sale of beer by the package will be prohibited in the entire precinct. If the voters there approve Local Option 5-C, sale of wine and mixed beverages by the package for off‐premise consumption will be prohibited in the entire precinct, and state liquor stores will be prohibited there.

Using a public records request, the Dayton Daily News obtained a Dec. 12 letter sent to churchgoers at Epiphany Lutheran Church by the Rev. Julie Reuning-Scherer, who serves as senior pastor.

In the letter, Reuning-Scherer says the church was spearheading a ballot initiative to give voters a say in whether or not carry-out beer and wine sales can be permitted at this location.

“The ballot question would have no effect on restaurant licenses, and no existing carry-out businesses would be affected by the result of this vote,” she said in the letter. “We believe that Sheetz would not want to build its store without beer and wine sales and that this would add another deterrent to their push to locate there.”

The Sheetz store would be built where the Elsa’s Mexican Restaurant, known for their Bad Juan margaritas, is currently located, as the Elsa’s and Sheetz parties had reached a deal for the site.

Elsa’s has remained open throughout the legal battle and will continue to stay open, owner Jason Hemmert told the Dayton Daily News. The restaurant would only shut down if Sheetz gets final approval to build on the site, Hemmert said.

The city of Centerville’s Planning Commission in August approved a major site plan that would have allowed Sheetz to construct a 6,139-square-foot store on the site where Elsa’s has operated since December 1981.

Reuning-Scherer said in October that Epiphany “raised the alarm over Sheetz’s intention to sell alcohol, tobacco, and CBD products within 500 feet of a school and church, and increased crime statistics at 24-hour gas stations.”

After objections from Epiphany and others, Centerville City Council in late October rejected Sheetz’s plans to construct the new location. The next month, Sheetz, developer Skilken Gold and the Elsa’s owners filed an administrative appeal against the city’s decision in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

That legal action is still pending. But the church decided not to wait to see the outcome.

In the Dec. 12 letter, Reuning-Scherer said Epiphany was working with a consultant to take a petition door-to-door in Centerville Precinct N, including at Bethany Village.

“Signing the petition is not a vote yes or no to carry-out alcohol sales,” she wrote. “Rather, it creates the opportunity for voters to decide this question on the March ballot. Subsequent business would also have the opportunity to seek voter approval of beer and wine in the future.”

On Thursday, Epiphany Lutheran Church officials declined comment on the March ballot issues, saying that because Sheetz has sued the city of Centerville, the church “will not comment on something that is under review and litigation.”

Sheetz did not respond to a request for comment before press deadlines Thursday.

The lawsuit filed by Sheetz and the other parties says that Centerville City Council “incorrectly reversed” the planning commission’s approval. Graceworks, which runs the Bethany Village retirement community across the street from the site and opposes the Sheetz, has filed a motion to intervene in the case.

Appellate briefs will be due from Sheetz and the city of Centerville between now and mid-April. The case then will go to Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Angelina Jackson.

Jackson was named the case’s new judge Jan. 5, replacing Common Pleas Judge Richard Skelton. On Jan. 2, Skelton requested a transfer/reassignment in the matter due to a personal conflict. Cynthia Miller, Skelton’s bailiff, confirmed that, but declined to specify further.

By the time Jackson rules, Centerville voters will already have weighed in on the legality of carry-out liquor sales at the site.

Meanwhile, the case has affected business at Elsa’s Centerville site, Hemmert said.

“Since the story broke, you could say business has been down, at times significantly down, but my staff is doing ... a great job of building things back up to where we need to be,” Hemmert said. “I definitely think that the case was involved (with) the initial downturn mainly because of the amount of phone calls we get, or people that are just stopping by saying, either ‘Hey, we didn’t know you guys were still open,” or ‘When did you open back up?’ In actuality, we actually never did close.”

A half mile north of the proposed Sheetz location, UDF last year opened a new 24-hour gas station at Far Hills and Whipp Road that sells alcoholic beverages. Washington Twp. officials said Thursday that “there have not been any complaints regarding the UDF selling alcohol” as far as they know.

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