City decides to delay decision on Circle K use permit

The city of Phoenix decided to delay their decision to grant a use permit to the proposed Circle K on the southeast corner of Seventh and Roosevelt streets. Community members have voiced concerns over the Circle K's proximity to a potentially walkable district. (Jessica Zook/DD)

Following a public hearing Thursday at Phoenix City Hall, the decision to grant a use permit to a proposed 16-pump Circle K at the southeast corner of Seventh and Roosevelt streets was delayed, with a resolution due within 30 days. The zoning decision would directly impact the proposed Circle K’s application for a liquor license.

Circle K already has a 4-pump store at the northeast corner of the intersection, but wants to move to a larger location across the street. Circle K had initially applied for a series 9 liquor license, which would have allowed the store to sell hard alcohol, but it withdrew the request. The proposed convenience store is currently applying for a series 10 license, which would allow Circle K to sell beer and wine — the same license held at the current location.

The decision on the use permit was delayed pending more information from Circle K and the consideration of Michael Widener, a zoning-adjustment hearing officer. The use permit would allow Circle K to sell liquor and propane within 300 feet of a residences.

Although the hearing was nominally about Circle K’s bid for a use permit at the new location, attendees raised broader concerns about the impact of the convenience store in the community.

More than 70 people attended the hearing. Five spoke in favor of the new store, and 16 spoke in opposition.

Issues discussed at the hearing included the effect of the existing Circle K store and the proposed store on crime, traffic, property values, the local economy and air quality in nearby neighborhoods.

The future of the current Circle K store at the northeast corner was also discussed. David Cisiewski, the attorney representing Circle K, said the company intends to maintain their lease, and ideally sublease the building to a non-competing small business.

Cisiewski said that Circle K has consulted with Evans Churchill and Garfield neighborhood association members since April to address the concerns of the downtown community. Cisiewski said that the company hoped to amend the problems present at other Circle K locations in and around downtown, particularly crime.

“This project isn’t something that was just thrown together and brought forward,” Cisiewski said. “This is the reflection of about six months of work with a lot of different neighborhood organizations, city staff, Circle K operations people, Circle K real estate people trying to bring forward a project that everyone is reasonably content with.”

Cisiewski said the new location will have between 14 and 16 cameras and a monitor in an effort to reduce crime.

According to Cisiewski, to meet aesthetic demands of the community the proposed building was designed with the intention of being “reflective of the Bayless building, trying to give it a bit of a historic sense,” with plans to commission a local artist to paint a mural on the back wall.

Cisiewski said the old store has “about four or five” doors for alcohol, while the new one would have a walk-in cooler and an additional door. He said the area for alcohol sales is almost the same between the stores.

The proposed Circle K superstation would be located at the southeast corner of Seventh and Roosevelt streets. Circle K would increase from four gas pumps to 16 at the larger location. (Connor Descheemaker/DD)

Walter Crutchfield, a partner at real-estate developer Vintage Partners, offered his qualified support for the new location.

“It is the elephant in the room for anybody to stand here and not say there are issues with downtown urban Circle Ks,” Crutchfield said, citing a multi-city study conducted by ASU in 2011 that suggested that Circle K stores have a higher crime rate than other convenience stores.

Crutchfield said that Circle K has made reasonable accommodations and that, reservations aside, the new store would still be a net improvement to the area.

Director of Synergy Design Lab Jeremy Stapleton called Circle K a “bad neighbor.” Stapleton lives near an urban 16-pump Circle K near Indian School and said that the company’s current stores have run contrary to the district’s cultural identity.

“If you permit sale of alcohol at this Circle K, you manipulate the market in a way that encourages more revenue extraction from the community,” Stapleton said. “Whereas if you deny it, you manipulate the market in a way that encourages people to spend their money locally, where it’s invested locally, where people like you and I, if it was our dream, could open a business on these streets and make a living.”

Stapleton and local planning and transit advocate Will Novak said the stakes of the hearing go beyond the use permit itself. They believe that Circle K is likely to abandon their plans for a new store at the proposed location without the ability to sell liquor.

“The community is trying to overcome horrible urban design,” Stapleton said. “Having Circle K there is the wrong message. We’re using the alcohol argument to put a wrench in Circle K’s plans.”

Novak said he thinks Circle K is bluffing about building the new store whether it can sell liquor or not.

“They say they’re going to build anyway, but I don’t believe that,” Novak said. “Circle K makes some money off gas, but the booze is where they turn a profit. If they can’t sell alcohol, they know they won’t build there.”

At the end of the hearing, Widener requested that Circle K provide information about whether their landlord is able to cancel their lease if Circle K discontinues its operations at their current northeast corner location.

Widener said he would take the community’s concerns into account when making a decision.

“This requires some thinking,” Widener said. “(Stapleton) made the observation, does this enable an auto-centric culture in a neighborhood that is gamely trying to become a pedestrian and bicycle-oriented culture? That’s a very profound comment and one that deserves some thought.”

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Read Will Novak’s guest column on the community concerns over the Circle K here.

Correction: Sept. 30, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the location of the proposed Circle K in the photo caption. The article also misrepresented the purpose of the Sept. 27 zoning hearing. The hearing dealt with a use permit which would permit the proposed Circle K to sell liquor and propane within 300 feet of a residential area. This, in effect, would determine the fate of the series 10 liquor license for which the Circle K is also applying. The series 10 liquor license has not gone before committee at this time.

Clarification: Sept. 30, 2012

This article has been modified to clarify that 16 attendees spoke in opposition. More than 30 wrote in opposition.