The Morgan Hill City Council agreed to update its 26-year-old ordinance on convenience stores Dec. 4 after some business owners found it to be too restrictive.
The council voted 3-1 to update the ordinance, which removed the requirement for a 1,000-foot setback between convenience stores, among other things. Councilmember Yvonne Martinez Beltran dissented, while Councilmember Larry Carr was absent.
Scott Nelson, a Mountain View police sergeant who is working in Morgan Hill’s Economic Development Department as part of a management talent exchange program, said the existing ordinance was put in place 26 years ago as a way to limit concentration of convenience markets and liquor stores.
The city has received a number of requests from convenience store owners about expanding the footprint of their operations over the last year, according to Nelson. However, under the old ordinance, the businesses—including those at gas stations—couldn’t expand their sales floors beyond 300 square feet. In addition, a new convenience market was required to be located at least 1,000 feet from any other market.
Shashi Sharma, who owns the Chevron station on the corner of Monterey Road and Vineyard Boulevard, is among the convenience store owners who have approached the city with plans to expand their sales areas.
Sharma said modern convenience store customers expect to find a wide range of products, not just the typical gas and cigarettes. He said he is trying to update his facility to increase the number of products for sale.
“You have to have what the customer wants,” he said.
“Convenience markets have really evolved from 26 years ago,” Nelson agreed. “Now, convenience markets are a little bit larger, they tend to be brighter, and they don’t necessarily just focus on gas sales and a few small items. They try to have more of a variety of items for sale, including some grab-and-go items.”
The new ordinance approved by the council sets separate definitions for convenience markets and liquor stores. It eliminates the 300-square-foot sales area limit as well as the 1,000-foot separation between convenience stores. The 1,000-foot setback from schools is still in place per a request from the Morgan Hill Unified School District, according to Nelson.
The 1,000-foot setback between liquor stores also remains.
The council denied a proposed amendment from Martinez Beltran to change the ordinance’s definition of a liquor store to one that has 25 percent or more of its sales space devoted to alcohol, down from the majority of space. Martinez Beltran still expressed support for the ordinance despite her vote against it.
“We’re looking to give businesses the flexibility to update and modernize, and I think that’s what everyone wants,” she said. “We want our businesses to look sharp and be competitive. I think this is a great way for us to try and address that.”