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Panel to discuss gas station limits

January 8, 2019

Despite a request by gas station owners and developers to defer a vote, the Fort Wayne Plan Commission will discuss a proposal next week limiting where new service stations can be located within the city limits. 

The proposal, championed by Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th, would make it harder for gas stations to set up shop in areas of the city not already zoned for the use. Specifically, the proposal eliminates a provision through which a property owner or developer could ask the Board of Zoning Appeals for a special use where the zoning designation does not allow a gas station or convenience store.

But several gas station owners and developers took offense to Hines’ proposal, disputing the notion that convenience stores don’t provide enough benefits to the communities in which they are located. 

If approved, all new gas stations in the city of Fort Wayne would have to build on land already zoned for the use or file a rezoning request. Special uses do not have to be approved by the City Council, but all rezoning requests do.

Speaking to the Plan Commission on Monday, Hines reiterated previous statements that there are already too many gas stations on Fort Wayne’s southeast side and that many of those establishments engage in predatory retail practices by charging high prices.

Many convenience stores also lack fresh food options that can be found at a grocery store, Hines said.

“There’s a dire need for these fresh meats, vegetables and fruits, and these gas stations that are coming in and getting variances are not adhering to the needs of the citizens,” Hines said. “It is my sincere hope that the Planning Department can craft this recommended change in zoning so we can stop proliferation of any more such predatory businesses and actually turn the tide on these disparities.”

Hines was followed by Allen County Councilwoman Sharon Tucker, D-1st. Tucker said it’s important to recognize the saturated market that exists in southeast Fort Wayne : and in other parts of the city : with respect to gas stations and convenience stores.

“We understand how gas station owners want to make their profit,” Tucker said. “But at this point in time, on the southeast side of Fort Wayne, we realize that we’ve saturated that market, so we support the changed language within this ordinance.”

When asked by Plan Commission Chairwoman Connie Haas-Zuber how many in the audience supported Hines’ proposal, about 75 percent of the assembled crowd raised their hands.

But that did not deter representatives from several corporations that own, license or manage gas stations throughout Fort Wayne from objecting to the amendment. Hines’ proposal, they said, unfairly targets small-business owners whose business practices are not illegal. 

“My main concern here is the discriminatory sentiment and language that has been brought against our industry,” said Trout Moser, president of National Oil & Gas Inc. 

National Oil & Gas is a developer of gas stations and leases convenience stores in the Fort Wayne area. 

Moser said based on foot traffic, there is a demand for convenience stores in the community. 

“The daily actions of the citizenry, a wise man once said, speaks louder than the words of a politician,” Moser said. 

Moser also disputed the contention that many convenience stores engage in what Hines described as predatory practices.

“I’m not even sure what that word means, ‘predatory,’” Moser said. “It’s like we’re preying on people, like we’re some kind of child trafficker or something. We’re not forcing people at gunpoint to buy things.”

The Plan Commission is expected to discuss the proposal at its Monday meeting. The commission could choose to defer a vote on the proposal, or offer a do-pass or do-not-pass recommendation to the City Council.

The City Council is expected to discuss and vote on the measure at its Jan. 15 meeting. 

dgong@jg.net

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