Fort Wayne Plan Commission weighs convenience store zoning

Attendees of the Jan. 7 Fort Wayne Planning Commission public hearing on a change in zoning regarding gas station convenience stores raise their hands in support of the proposal. LISA ESQUIVEL LONG

By Lisa Esquivel Long

FORT WAYNE — Gas station convenience store owners and developers and southeast residents got a chance to have their say on proposed restrictions to the stores. Now the Fort Wayne Plan Commission will decide if they want to make changes to the proposal given to them by Fort Wayne City Council.

Commissioners held a public hearing Jan. 7 in Citizens Square on a proposed zoning ordinance amendment that wouldn’t prevent gas station convenience stores from opening in certain areas, but would make it harder to do so.

“We support free market,” Allen County Councilwoman Sharon Tucker told commissioners. “We welcome economic development.”

However, she said, the area is saturated with convenience stores.

Sixth District City Councilman Glynn Hines told fellow council members at their Nov. 27 meeting that he wanted the change in the zoning ordinance that he said wouldn’t prevent convenience stores going in. It would just make it harder for them to do so.

Currently, the stores are restricted to certain commercial zones. However, developers and owners can go to the Fort Wayne Board of Zoning Appeals with a special-use request. Hines’ proposal would take away that option. The effective date for the change would be April 1.

Hines is concerned with what he feels is a high number of convenience stores in his southeast district, 22. He also believes that they have too many fried and nonperishable foods when the area is a food desert. He also expressed concern at the public hearing about what he calls “predatory prices.” He said bananas were being sold for 99 cents each.

Instead of convenience stores, the area needs grocery stores, Hines said.

However, about a half-dozen convenience store owners and developers in attendance opposed the change, some saying that it’s unnecessary.

“The market should determine when and where a convenience market can go,” said Jim Burns, a developer from Avilla. “…(To) make the hurdle even higher seems like we’re being picked on as an industry.”

He said he has had convenience store projects turned down, usually in the 6th District.

Ray McIntosh of McIntosh Industry, which owns and operates convenience stores, said he took offense at the “predatory pricing” accusation. Because they are smaller operations compared to groceries they can’t buy in bulk and get lower prices, he said. The diminishing demand for tobacco saw the industry turned to foods that are convenient for customers stopping in to buy gasoline. To meet Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program requirements, they must sell certain staples such as bread and milk. Some stores carry yogurt and fresh fruit.

Commission president Connie Haas Zuber asked attendees who supported the change to raise their hands, and about 75 percent did so. When she asked who opposed, about seven hands went up, including all the developers and owners who spoke at the hearing.

The commission can choose to defer a vote at its meeting next week.

City Council, which meets at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays on the Garden Level of Citizens Square, 200 E. Berry St., will make the final decision on the proposal.