Sen. Richard Saslaw (D-35th) owns a gas station in Westfields that doesn't sell alcohol, so he recently asked the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee to revisit and discuss its position on this matter, and it did.
FOR YEARS, the WFCCA — like one of its most outspoken past members, the late Jim McDonnell — has been adamantly opposed to gas stations selling beer and won't recommend county approval of any stations planning to do so. But Saslaw says only Braddock District has a similar policy.
WFCCA's Kathleen Hill said the committee's stance is a "good, solid, public-safety policy." Said member Ted Troscianecki: "I'm thinking of young people gassing up — and 'gassing' up — and I think it should be made inconvenient."
However, calling herself a teetotaler, Carol Hawn said, "My concern is that it's not enforceable. It's not county-required, and we've just been fortunate that the developers have complied with [our policy]." Land-Use Chairman Jim Katcham said he doesn't drink, either, so he has no vested interest in this matter.
Still, he said, "There are laws against underage drinking, and against drinking and driving. And [our policy] strikes me as being unfair to business owners and puts them at a disadvantage. I don't think it's right, and I wouldn't support it."
Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch noted that gas stations require special-exception permits, so the WFCCA can place conditions on them. And, he said, "They can't go to court and override them. I think it's a good policy. I don't think it's a good picture for a person to buy gas and come out with a six-pack. I feel strongly that gas stations shouldn't sell alcohol."
AT-LARGE Planning Commissioner Jim Hart said county officials usually consider the impact special-exception uses could have on "something more subdued" that's nearby. "The introduction of alcohol sales brings with it certain other impacts and could cause more loitering and people crossing busy streets [on foot] after buying alcohol."
WFCCA's Judy Heisinger wondered if the committee could "really legislate this with our unwritten policy." Replied member Chris Terpak-Malm: "I think we can. People can buy alcohol somewhere else. I've been hit by a drunk driver, and my brother-in-law was hit by a drunk driver. I really don't think alcohol and driving go together. We just want to prevent drinking and driving."
"Convenience stores are for impulse buyers," added WFCCA's Russ Wanek. "We don't want the thing they grab to be booze. It's just common sense." Local resident Frank Ojeda noted that the WFCCA only makes recommendations; the county makes policy. And he urged it to continue recommending "against the combination" of gas stations and alcohol.