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The Assembly Lands Committee agreed Monday to advance a proposed ordinance that would increase the size of convenience stores in residential neighborhoods, despite opposition by some residents.
Current alcohol and traffic congestion problems in Juneau will be exacerbated under the ordinance, opponents say.
Owners of Duck Creek Market on Stephen Richards Memorial Drive and Breeze-In on Douglas Island say the ordinance has been amended over time to meet the concerns of the public. Stores could be built up to 5,000 square feet under the ordinance. Breeze-In Owner Al Ahlgren would nearly double the size of the alcohol retail floor space, he said.
As a result, more alcohol-related abuse and crime will occur, said Cindy Cashen, executive director of the Juneau chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Southeast Alaska is one of the heaviest drinking areas in the nation due to the availability of alcohol, said Matt Felix, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. Juneau has 74 registered liquor licenses.
Southeast Alaska outpaced other parts of Alaska and the U.S. in alcohol consumption per capita every year from 1989 to 1999, according to statistics submitted by Felix. Nearly 3.5 gallons of pure alcohol per capita were consumed in 1999, compared to a little more than 2 gallons in the rest of the United States, according to the graph.
Opponents also criticized a clause in the ordinance that permits convenience stores to offer drive-up window service. State law forbids the sale of alcohol through a drive-up window. But Felix and Cashen questioned what would prevent clerks from selling alcohol through a drive-up window.
"Alcohol for sale in neighborhoods has no place," Cashen said.
Convenience stores are not created simply because a business owner wants to make money, said Tom Manning, co-owner of Duck Creek Market. Stores are created, he said, because of a need. They are located in specific areas that are convenient to the public.
"Alcohol sales unto themselves don't constitute alcohol abuse," Manning said. Further, convenience store owners cannot buy daily from distributors so they need storage space, he said.
Steve Sorenson, counsel for Ahlgren, noted that Breeze-In contributes city sales and property tax revenue.
The ordinance will go next to the Committee of the Whole. It's also subject to review by the Planning Commission.