Convenience stores ready to expand

A proposed city ordinance would allow neighborhood convenience stores to increase in size considerably

Posted: Tuesday, October 09, 2001

Some Juneau residents are upset with a proposed ordinance allowing neighborhood convenience stores to more than double in size in exchange for improvements such as landscaping.

The ordinance comes before the Juneau Planning Commission tonight and if passed allows convenience stores in residential areas to expand to a maximum of 5,000 square feet in exchange for improvements. It would also allow owners to add gas pumps to their stores.

The ordinance affects the Douglas Breeze-In Grocery in West Juneau, the Duck Creek Market in the Mendenhall Valley and sites for potential stores in the Auke Lake area and an area north of the Douglas Bridge.

Some residents near the Breeze-In are worried about how changes to the store would affect their neighborhood.

"If you lived in a fairly nice home, would you want it next to a liquor store?" said resident Nina Brown, who lives about 200 feet from the Breeze-In. "I've already had break-ins and people urinating behind my house. But my biggest concern is the traffic this will cause. It's already bad and this will make it worse. And I don't like the idea that they could turn that place into a gas station."

NEW ORDINANCE AT A GLANCE:

The proposed convenience store ordinance would:

* Increase the maximum allowable square footage from 3,000 to 5,000 square feet.

* Require a physical barrier and landscaping between the store and the nearest neighbor to buffer light and noise pollution.

* Restrict the maximum square footage dedicated to liquor sales to 50 percent of the total, which can be expanded with bonus provisions.

* Allows bonus provisions, such as more space, if amenities are added. Covered bicycle racks can add 500 square feet to a building. Transit-related improvements can bring 1,000 bonus square feet. Restricting the area used to sell alcohol to 1,500 square feet can result in 1,000 bonus square feet.

Breeze-In owner Al Ahlgren said if the ordinance passes he intends to tear down the existing 1,800-square-foot store and build a 5,000-square-foot store with construction starting in two years. The new Breeze-In near the Douglas Bridge would be identical to his store near the Nugget Mall, with a deli, bakery, video rental, more groceries and a liquor section, he said.

Ahlgren said the store would be split, as it is now, so half the building would be a liquor outlet.

Nearby resident Ella Bentley said expanding the liquor side of the store could bring more problems into the West Juneau neighborhood.

"There are people in Juneau trying to help people with alcoholism and here we are exacerbating the problem by bringing in more alcohol," she said.

Only 50 percent of a convenience store may be dedicated to the purchase of liquor under the proposed ordinance. Currently no other ordinances limit the amount of square footage for liquor sales.

But Ahlgren said this is not a new plan. He bought the West Juneau store 20 years ago and said he always planned to expand and renovate it. In the late 1980s the city changed the zoning of the store to fit with its master plan, Ahlgren said. The new residential zoning with a convenience store overlay meant he could only expand his store up to 3,000 square feet.

"You can't just sell a can of corn and a candy bar and expect to pay the bills. And it wouldn't have been cost-effective to only expand to 3,000 square feet. It would have cost more than we would have made," Ahlgren said. "A bigger store means we can offer more things."

Ahlgren said he had tried several times to get the zoning of the property changed but was denied by the Planning Commission. In 1999, he hit on a compromise. He could expand in exchange for improvements he would make to the site that would enhance the community, he said. For example, in exchange for landscaping he could earn an extra 500 square feet to add to his store. This bartering system can earn as much as 1,000 square feet per amenity totaling a maximum of 5,000 square feet.

City Planner Chris Beanes, who drafted the proposed ordinance, said the amenities plan is a good one, but he is opposed to gas pumps in residential areas. Beanes' original draft of the ordinance prohibited pumps, but that was changed.

"The Planning Commission felt it should be in there," Beanes said. "The reason being we can't ignore the reality of the car as a necessary amenity for stores. I'm opposed to this because they will be used in neighborhoods where they shouldn't have a gas station. I see a gas station as counter to the desired character of the zone."

He said adding pumps negates the intent of the amenities plan, which was to make it easier and more pleasant for pedestrians to use a convenience store, limiting the use of cars.

Ahlgren said he wouldn't rule out putting pumps at the Douglas Island store.

Jack Manning, owner of the Duck Creek Market, asked the Planning Commission for a "conditional use permit to amend the existing convenience store use with the addition of gasoline sales" for his store. Manning's request is going before the panel tonight.

Commission member Mike Bavard would not comment on store gas sales before the meeting, but said "nothing was set in stone and the ordinance could still change."

Beanes said expanding the West Juneau store would increase traffic. But he said expansion also may mitigate some of the traffic from people driving downtown to get sundry items not found currently at the Breeze-In.

Ahlgren said expanding the Breeze-In would not increase traffic. He said people from downtown will still buy groceries downtown, which means he will have the same Douglas client base as before the expansion.

Beanes said overall the ordinance is sound and the amenities, such as landscaping, will benefit the neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the ordinance tonight. If it reaches a decision it will be passed on to the Juneau Assembly, which can reject or adopt the ordinance. The commission meeting will be held at 7 tonight in Assembly Chambers and is open to the public.

*****

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.



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