Convenience stores will be allowed to nearly double in size, upsetting some who worry about safety and alcohol use, the Juneau Assembly decided Monday.
The decision comes after weeks of recent debate over whether to allow convenience stores to expand. The expansion would affect Duck Creek Market in the Mendenhall Valley and Breeze-In on Douglas Island.
Karen Lawfer, coordinator of Juneau Safe Kids Coalition, said the ordinance will increase motor vehicle traffic and be especially pronounced on Douglas Island, where traffic is already congested.
"These kids are taking their lives in their hands," Lawfer said after the vote. "It (the ordinance) is outside the original intent to serve as a neighborhood store."
Store sizes in specified zones could increase from the current 3,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet and have a drive-through window. The Breeze-In may add gasoline pumps, a right already afforded under the current ordinance regulating convenient stores. Duck Creek Market on Stephen Richards Memorial Drive may add a drive-through window to serve coffee.
State law prohibits the sale of alcohol through a drive-through window. Some opponents fear store clerks will sell alcohol through a window anyway.
"The key word here is neighborhood," Lawfer said. "Five thousand square feet with gas pumps. Is that truly a neighborhood enhancement or a commercial business in a neighborhood setting?"
Larger convenience stores will advocate for more alcohol consumption in a town already plagued with alcohol abuse, said Matt Felix, executive director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence in Juneau.
"The last thing we need is more or bigger liquor stores in this town," Felix said.
Felix said the vote was an example of powerful special interests getting their way. He was opposed to the Assembly's recent decision to enact term limits for city boards and commissions until last night, he said.
The Assembly voted 7-2 with Assembly member Randy Wanamaker and Mayor Bruce Botelho voting against.
Proponents argue the ordinance is better than the one previously on the books. That ordinance provided smaller setbacks and didn't require landscaping and fencing along the property line shared with a residential lot.
Further, convenience store owners say the ordinance will improve service to the community while affording them more storage space for goods. Juneau's geographic location prohibits them from getting daily shipments similar to counterparts in the Lower 48.
Duck Creek Market co-owner Jack Manning said 25 percent of his store is used for storage. He also reminded the public that owners still must go before the planning commission to receive conditional use permits for expansion.
Lawfer plans to fight any decisions about issuing such conditional use permits, she said.
Felix said he will now focus on how much alcohol sales the owners plan to include in their expansions.