Planning commissioners on Wednesday approved a site plan and recommended an approval of an alcohol license for the relocation of Circle K on Mercey Springs Road.
The issue became contentious when the congregation of New Canaan Missionary Baptist Church objected for fear of Circle K's patrons bringing graffiti, litter and unruly behavior fueled by intoxication to the church's doorstep. Circle K is across the street from the church but will be locating next door.
"We don't want to stand in the way of progress in Los Banos but, at the same time, as a church we have a few concerns," the Rev. Phil Jenkins said. "They wouldn't be the best neighbor for us."
Circle K, at 403 Mercey Springs Road, plans to move across the street north of Overland Avenue on 1.6 acres. The move will allow the store to expand to 4,500 square feet, go from four gas pumps to eight and add a car wash.
Rona Dhruv, Circle K's real estate development manager, said the store's design is a prototype. The church members were not impressed.
"They'll have a sign up saying no loitering, but my concern is they cannot control who comes behind that wall, pops that tab, drinks that beer in front of my children and my church," Steven Payton said.
Vondell MacKenzie said having Highway 165 separate the church and the store allows a buffer between children who attend New Canaan and people consuming alcohol in public.
"Sometimes I have a fear of going outside of there. I don't want what I see over there to be right next to us," Mackenzie said. "To me, that's something that's very important."
Circle K has considered other vacant land on Mercey Springs Road but, store officials said, sewer lines that would decrease square footage and obstacles to delivery trucks having access to the store made moving there implausible.
Circle K store manager Ana Magana said she lives in the area and does not have issues sending her daughters to the store late at night.
She said she also sees many of the church members and their children at her store regularly.
The land on which Circle K plans to build was bought from Rite Aid, which made plans to relocate there in 2008 but abandoned the site due to the economic downturn. At the time, New Canaan Missionary Baptist Church opposed that move because, like Circle K, Rite Aid wanted an alcohol license.
The Commission approved Circle K's site plan and recommended the alcohol license to the City Council in a 5-0 vote. Commissioners Susan Toscano and Tracey Rosin were not present.
Jenkins was not surprised.
"We knew it was going to pass. This is Los Banos," he said. "It was important for us to come here and let them know how we feel."
Commissioner Tom Mello said he empathizes with parishioners and church officials. He said he believes the city should ask Circle K not to refrigerate alcoholic beverages. Mello said that may encourage people to go home and refrigerate them instead of drinking in public.
Circle K plans to start construction in December.