A Murrieta gas station that had its request to sell beer and wine denied by the city Planning Department won its appeal to the Murrieta Planning Commission.
After a more than two-hour discussion and public hearing Wednesday, commissioners ruled narrowly with a 3-2 vote in favor of the appeal filed by SAS Properties for its ARCO ampm at 39460 Murrieta Hot Springs Road.
Chairman Gregory Goodman and Commissioner Anthony Casadonte casted dissenting votes, while Vice Chair Jeff Kirshberg and Commissioners Ruth Anne Taylor-Berger and Raymond Seda voted in favor of the appellant.
The store, located at the southwest corner of Murrieta Hot Springs and Margarita roads, has traditionally not sold alcohol since it first opened in 2006. It was before being converted to an ampm under new ownership.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, two people spoke in favor of the store selling alcohol and six spoke in opposition. Many of those who spoke against it were in attendance at a when Community Development Director Mary Lanier denied the permit.
“I ask the Commission to support the community development director's decision and not support this permit,” said Teresa Webb, a resident of Vanderbilt Avenue, less than 1,000 feet from the mini-mart.
Webb said she has signed petitions against alcohol sales in neighboring centers since purchasing her home in 2003. Webb was one of 125 to sign a petition against this latest attempt.
Joel Wingo spoke on behalf of Calvary Chapel Bible College, which is across the street from the mini-mart. He said more than 30,000 guests and students come through the college and conference center each year, and that most frequented the store.
“Alcohol is not something they desire,” Wingo said. “We do have several students who are minors. Also our campus is not secured so if people wish to consume alcohol on our campus they might be able to do that. We would like to maintain a peaceful atmosphere.”
Steve Rawlings of Murrieta-based The Rawlings Company, who was working as a consultant for SAS properties, turned in a petition with more than 500 signatures in support of the license.
City Planner Cynthia Kinser pointed out that Lanier was not supplied that petition when she made her Dec. 7 decision.
Because the location of the mini-mart is included in a census tract that takes in parts of Winchester Road in Temecula, Assistant City Planner Aaron Rintamaki said there needed to be a public necessity to grant the license, as the tract was already at its maximum for alcohol licenses.
“The census tract area takes in Trader Joe’s, Costco, all along that Winchester Road corridor there,” Rawlings said. “And that is somewhat significant to point out…In Murrieta’s case there are a lot of licenses being included from Temecula. I strongly do believe that this is business that will act responsibly.”
Rawlings also reminded commissioners there was a Fresh and Easy selling alcohol in the location already, and that another ampm had just although it is located near homes and Vista Murrieta High School.
Of the two commissioners who voted to deny the appeal, Goodman said he’d rather “error on the side of prevention” of an uptick in crime where there was more alcohol readily available.
According to Murrieta police Lt. Julie Hoxmeier, there 31 calls for service at the location within the last year—most of them made by patrol officers.
“The majority of contacts were thefts, where the gas station was the victim. We did not get any calls in the last year for disorderly conduct or loitering,” Hoxmeier told commissioners.
“Within reason, certainly alcohol is related to crime, you can’t deny that. Certainly if you have alcohol at a location you are going to have a higher preponderance for police calls,” Hoxmeier said.
But the commissioners who voted to accept the appeal deemed it a public necessity.
“I do think there is a matter of convenience for this site,” Taylor-Berger said.
Kirshberg said he was satisfied the store would meet the 42 conditions of approval under the city’s new alcoholic beverage code.
“The objectives and policies in these conditions of approval were set forth. I really just come back to first one—is it public convenience and necessity,” Kirshberg said.
The Planning Commission will formally enact a resolution approving the alcohol permit at its next meeting Feb. 22.
The victory means the store’s management can now take proof of the Planning Commission’s ruling when it applies for its license from the State Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Kinser said.