Convenience store ordinance stalls

Measure would increase maximum store size from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet

Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2003

A proposed city ordinance that would give neighborhood convenience stores more leeway to expand stalled in committee Wednesday.

After more than a year of work, the Juneau Assembly's Public Works and Facilities Committee was unable to agree on revised rules for convenience stores in residential areas.

"There's just not the unanimity on the public works committee to make it," Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said.

A draft ordinance approved by the Juneau Planning Commission would increase the maximum store size from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet in exchange for improvements to the surrounding area. For example, a store could expand if it installed covered bicycle racks or restricted alcohol sales to less than 1,500 square feet.

The ordinance also would require a buffer between the store and nearby homes and limit liquor sales to 50 percent of the gross floor area.

The changes would apply to the Douglas Breeze In, the Duck Creek Market in the Mendenhall Valley and sites for potential stores in the Auke Lake area and north of the Douglas Bridge. Store owners offered a "business-friendly" version of the ordinance that would allow gasoline sales, delete the liquor restrictions and move landscaping requirements into an optional bonus section.

Consultant Murray Walsh, who represented Breeze In at the meeting, said the ordinances will help the business upgrade a "crumbling" West Juneau store. The Planning Commission turned down a rezone request in 1999 that would have allowed the Douglas Breeze In store to expand.

"Obviously there are some problems and I guess I'll see what they eventually come up with. They haven't dropped the ball," Walsh said this morning, referring to Assembly members. "We have a company here that wants to spend a lot of money. They just need an opportunity to do it."

Both proposals failed to get enough votes on the committee Wednesday to move forward. Committee chairwoman and Assembly member Jeannie Johnson said she was concerned the changes favored one business over another because of size differences.

"I hope it's not dead," she said afterward. "I'm hoping there is some tweaking so we can move along. ... There are some very good parts to this and there's been a lot of work put into it. But it's just not quite right yet."

Assembly member Merrill Sanford, who served on the Planning Commission when the proposal was drafted, said the Assembly needs to sit down and work on the issue in depth. Whether to put landscaping into a bonus section is an unresolved issue, and it's not something he supports, he said.

"It's the prerogative of the city side to meet community needs," he said. "I'm pro-development, but there are certain things you have to protect to keep a balance."

The convenience store changes have been greeted by concern from some neighbors. Douglas resident Katherine Brown said traffic around the Douglas Breeze In is a serious problem and more work on the ordinance is needed.

"I'm happy they didn't go with the store-owner version," she said. "We need to be really careful we're not going to trade off homeowner property values, public safety and neighborhood integrity without a really good compelling public interest."

Cindy Cashen, executive director of Juneau's chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said the city's existing convenience store ordinance is adequate. At a January hearing, she objected to increased space for liquor sales.

"Remaining at 1,500 square feet more than meets the needs of residential areas," she said.

Planning Commissioner Dan Bruce, who has a nonvoting seat on the Public Works and Facilities Committee, said the commission tried to balance business interests with neighborhood values in developing the ordinance. Even if a new ordinance is approved, businesses will need to apply for a permit if they want to open a new store or expand, he said.

Community Development Director Dale Pernula said Juneau handles convenience store planning better than most communities. Changes elsewhere often require a rezone, but Juneau has four districts where convenience stores are allowed with a conditional use permit, he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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