Newport Beach planning commissioners were cool Thursday night to a proposal for a significant expansion of a gas station convenience store, citing concerns with the building's height and hours of operation and the possibility that it would add alcohol sales that could drive up crime.
Ultimately, the commission decided to put off a decision until a future meeting.
The owners of the 76 station at 1461 Superior Ave., which has been open since 1995, seek to replace its existing single-story, 648-square-foot market with a two-story, 4,416-square-foot store that would include a Subway sandwich shop. The second floor would be a storage and office area. The building's height would be 32 feet.
The new store proposes to have a beer and wine license — the current one doesn't sell liquor — and operating hours of 6 a.m. to midnight. The existing store closes voluntarily at 10 p.m., though the city permitted it to close at midnight.
The existing single-bay car wash and 12 gas pumps would be unchanged.
Commission Vice Chairman Peter Zak asked to see renderings of all four sides of the proposed building — the application didn't include a view of the building's backside — and a reworking of the timing for alcohol sales before making a decision.
Commissioner Bill Dunlap said he was "not big on" additional alcohol sales at all.
Chairman Peter Koetting suggested dropping the highest part of the building to 22 feet. Commissioner Erik Weigand questioned why the store needs to be two stories at all.
The issues of crime and alcohol were intertwined in the discussion.
The Newport Beach Police Department reported 244 crime reports in 2016 in the gas station's area, bounded roughly by Coast Highway, Newport Boulevard, 16th Street and Monrovia Avenue, making it a relative hot spot at 190% over the citywide average of reported crime. Of the 304 arrests in that area last year, 24% were directly related to alcohol, the department said. The most common crime was car burglary, and most arrests were drug-related.
Newport Beach police routinely analyze crime, with a focus on alcohol-related crimes, when an alcohol-serving business seeks to open.
Wendy Joe, the Newport Beach police investigator who gathered the statistics, said that based on her analysis, the Police Department has no objection to the new liquor license. She added that the area isn't saturated with businesses that sell alcohol.
Still, Commissioner Lauren Kleiman was concerned that liquor sales would exacerbate crime.
"The crime statistics may not be substantial when compared to some of the other cities, but I think for Newport Beach they're significant," Kleiman said.
Some residents also worried that the project would invite seedy activity.
"If I were a homeless drug addict that hangs out in that area, I'd sure like to be able to get a bottle of wine at 11 o'clock at night," Tom Fredericks said. "I think it's a ridiculous idea to encourage. Even though there's no crime now related to alcohol, why give that option life?"
Sandra Ayers said the city has been improving the area with recent private school and residential developments.
"Let's just keep the quality of what Newport Beach is," she said. "We shut down at 9. That's what we're famous for and we like it that way."