St. Paul City Council moves to shut down tobacco store

Brahm Buck

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday rejected a rezoning request in the North End neighborhood, effectively shutting down a tobacco store that some neighbors say has become a crime magnet. The city in 2019 mistakenly granted Ali Alfureedy a tobacco product shop license for his 444 W. Maryland Av. […]

The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday rejected a rezoning request in the North End neighborhood, effectively shutting down a tobacco store that some neighbors say has become a crime magnet.

The city in 2019 mistakenly granted Ali Alfureedy a tobacco product shop license for his 444 W. Maryland Av. property, which isn’t zoned for such permits. In March, Alfureedy asked the city to rezone the site so he could stay in business.

That prompted a backlash from neighbors, who complained Alfureedy wasn’t doing enough to stop crime in the parking lot of his property, which also houses a restaurant and a grocery.

Council President Amy Brendmoen, who represents the area, on Wednesday urged her colleagues to reject the proposal, arguing the site’s existing zoning fits with the neighborhood. Driving down W. Maryland Avenue, she often sees young families waiting for the school bus at the apartment complex across the street from Alfureedy’s business.

“The street is really transforming into a very nice warm residential feel for a road that used to be very busy,” Brendmoen said.

She added that she thinks Alfureedy minimized neighbors’ concerns about crime, including the 2019 fatal shooting of 21-year-old Marquez Perry-Banks, who was killed while sitting in his car in the property’s parking lot.

The council voted unanimously to reject Alfureedy’s application.

Police visited the street corner more than 1,700 times since the start of 2018. Records show a majority were proactive check-ins, but they’ve also responded to calls about gun violence, assaults, dangerous driving and drug deals.

City staff previously recommended the Planning Commission approve Alfureedy’s request, saying zoning should not be used to target problems at an individual property.

In a previous e-mail to the Star Tribune, Ben Loetscher, an attorney representing Alfureedy, said it is unfair to accuse the tobacco store of causing the spike in crime as gun violence has surged in cities across the country. Loetscher wrote that Alfureedy “is a first-generation immigrant from Iraq, and he is thankful for the opportunities he has had to become the owner of 444 Maryland.”

Alfureedy did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon, and Loetscher said he needed to review the decision and talk with Alfureedy to evaluate how to proceed.

Katie Galioto • 612-673-4478

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