CONCORD -- In a rare move, the City Council countered the staff and Planning Commission recommendations to deny a beer and wine sales permit for the Circle K store under construction at Oak Grove Road and Treat Boulevard.

After questioning the applicant and staff at length, council members approved Gursharnjeet Cheema's permit appeal.

The number of schools and liquor sales sites in the vicinity had been the primary cause for denial, according to senior planner Ryan Lenhardt's council presentation.

Speaking as a private citizen, Planning Commissioner Robert Hoag argued, "There was no need for it ... There are eight outlets (selling beer and wine) and six schools within a mile."

Council members questioned that.

"Costco (permit) is a membership," Councilman Edi Birsan said, noting that more than 100 people in the immediate neighborhood signed a petition in favor of Cheema's business proposal.

"We have always had more liquor stores than schools (in that area)," Birsan said.

The permit decision fell to the council because standard state of California Alcoholic Beverage Control approval allows four liquor licenses within a census tract. More are allowed, but those must be approved by the local municipality, keeping potential crime and economic hardship in mind.

The 800 Oak Grove Road address is in a corner of a census tract containing five permits. Safeway, inc. owns an inactive permit for a closed store there.

The council studied the census tract map display, and Councilman Ron Leone asked the staff to confirm that "all of the (surrounding) census tracts are overpopulated with liquor sale permits."

Noting that all of the other permit holders in the area are large corporations, Mayor Dan Helix said, "The abundance of something should not limit the opportunity to build or sell another ... That is free enterprise."

"I think we need to support all of our businesses, large and small," Councilman Ron Leone said, adding that he remembered that there had been no complaints from schools or PTA organizations, no one came to the meetings and, "police told us that they don't have a problem.'

"I put weight on the opinion of the police," Vice Mayor Tim Grayson said, referring to police statistics demonstrating an extremely low incidence of alcohol-related crimes in the area.

Birsan moved to approve the permit, with a second from Leone, who agreed with Cheema's claim that the profit margin in gasoline sales is small, and for that it would be difficult to compete with corporate-owned fuel facilities without income from other sales.

Councilwoman Laura Hoffmeister asked Cheema if he had researched the economic viability of the business before purchasing. She said it was common knowledge that stations on the homebound side of a commute route do better than those on the work-bound side.

Cheema said he had done the research, adding that he had already spent more than $60,000 improving the site to conform to state and local regulations, including fees.

Hoffmeister said, "I am torn on this."

She objected to the fact that the original permit application did not include a request for liquor sales, questioned the applicant's "piecemeal" approach and felt that the staff could have provided more research on past decisions of a similar nature.

After acknowledging that ABC guidelines about the number of nearby sites were made before "enhanced education and more police focus" on the hazards of alcohol use, she agreed to the motion if it included "conditions that there are only two coolers allowed, and the sale of individual beer containers is prohibited."

The final approval limits the sale of alcoholic beverages to two coolers with package sales only in the rear of the store.

Reach Dana Guzzetti at dguzzetti10@gmail.com or call 925-202-9292.

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