9 liquor stores are in a mile stretch of Belmont Avenue. Fresno says yes to 1 more.

Developer George Beal, left, talks with Lowell neighborhood residents Barbara Fiske and Esther Delahay, right, after the Fresno City Council approved Beal's plans to build a convenience store selling beer and wine at the intersection of Belmont and Van Ness avenues in central Fresno.
Developer George Beal, left, talks with Lowell neighborhood residents Barbara Fiske and Esther Delahay, right, after the Fresno City Council approved Beal's plans to build a convenience store selling beer and wine at the intersection of Belmont and Van Ness avenues in central Fresno. tsheehan@fresnobee.com

A proposal to allow a new convenience store to sell beer and wine was approved Thursday by the Fresno City Council, despite fears of residents in the nearby Lowell Neighborhood north of downtown Fresno.

Developer George Beal wants to build a Johnny Quik convenience store with a Subway sandwich shop and an eight-pump gas station at the southwest corner of Belmont and Van Ness avenues in central Fresno. As part of the project, Beal also sought permission to apply to the state for a license to sell beer and wine for off-site consumption.

The council took two separate votes on the issue – a unanimous 7-0 approval of the overall project and a 6-1 vote allowing beer and wine sales. The vote on the liquor sales was counter to the advice of the city's planning staff, who recommended approving permits for the convenience store, restaurant and gas station, but urged denial of the request for the "off-sale" alcohol license. The Fresno Planning Commission took a similar action in a unanimous vote on Dec. 20.

Councilman Clint Olivier was the lone council member to vote against the alcohol component of the project. Councilman Oliver Baines, whose southwest Fresno district includes the Belmont/Van Ness intersection, was joined by council colleagues Steve Brandau, Esmeralda Soria, Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez and Garry Bredefeld in approving the alcohol sales.

Complicating the project is the number of other stores already selling alcohol in the area. According to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, there are three other stores within 500 feet, and nine along Belmont Avenue within a half mile. Throughout southeast and southwest Fresno, concentrations of beer, wine and liquor stores are greater than in northern portions of the city.

The city's development code prohibits new small stores from selling alcohol if they are within 500 feet of a public park, playground, public or private school or preschool, or an alcohol- or drug-treatment facility. A staff report to the council noted that there is a drug-treatment facility about 300 feet north along Van Ness Avenue.

Other factors barring new liquor stores: When they are within 500 feet of another store or if it leads to a cluster of more than four stores within a 1,000-foot radius; if they are proposed for a high-crime area; or when they are in an area with a high concentration of liquor businesses. Within the 93701 and 93728 ZIP codes surrounding the Johnny Quik site, there are 46 stores with "off-sale" licenses to sell beer, wine or hard liquor.

Several residents from nearby neighborhoods asked the council to consider the saturation of liquor sales already in the area. "Within eyesight there are three different liquor stores," said Esther Delahay, a parent from the Lowell neighborhood south of the proposed store and executive director of the Lowell Community Development Corporation. "All of this contributes to a very unsafe park across the street with people loitering, doing drugs and smoking, making it unsafe for children to play there on a regular basis."

"There are 18 (stores) within a 1-mile radius that you can walk to," she added.

Brenda Dominguez, who lives near Susan B. Anthony Elementary School northeast of the site, held her son in her arms as she told the council of her opposition to Beal's plan. "As a mom and as a community member, I'm interested in the well-being of not only my son but of the many families and children in our neighborhood who are surrounded by these liquor establishments," she said. "In the end, we are the recipients of the negative effects of establishments that sell liquor and beer.

Beal said the site has been vacant for 15 years and believes his store will be a benefit to the area. "Who is providing services to the people living in this neighborhood?" he asked. Between the Johnny Quik, Subway and Rare Earth coffee businesses in the building, he expects to hire as many as 18 employees and "offer services not currently available to the neighborhood residents."

Beal will be required to buy another business that already has a liquor license and transfer the license to the new store so that there will be no net gain in the number of alcohol businesses in the area. "We'll have to find (a license to buy)," he said. "We have one lined up; it's just not in the same census tract."

Baines said he appreciated neighbors' concerns, but said he believed the prospective benefits of the project outweigh the problems. "Mr. Beal assured me that he will buy another license, so we're not going to get a net increase," Baines said. "At the same time we get a major investment by a major operator in a blighted city block. … I think that's actually a good trade-off in this situation."

Soria said that after meeting with Beal she believes the project "is really going to clean up that neighborhood." Because of the store's proximity to the Van Ness Avenue on- and off-ramps from Highway 180, "it's going to become an entry point to the Tower District" less than a half-mile to the north.

In addition to the requirement that Beal buy and transfer a liquor license, the store will be prohibited from selling single cans or bottles of alcohol – a condition aimed at keeping people from buying loose containers of beer to drink while hanging out in the nearby neighborhood.

Barbara Fiske, president of the Lowell Neighborhood Association, said she was disappointed that the council disregarded its own code requirements when it approved the store. She said neighbors may still try to make a case to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which would have to approve a license transfer for Beal.

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