Gas stations have evolved so that most include convenience stores that sell food, and the county’s laws should similarly evolve, according to a bill being considered by the Frederick County Council.
The bill was one of two unanimously recommended Wednesday by the Frederick County Planning Commission.
The bill would update part of the county’s zoning ordinance that was last changed in 1976, before the current models of stores such as Sheetz or Wawa that offer gasoline, food and a variety of other products, the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Phil Dacey (R), told the commission.
“These uses have kind of merged. There really is no gas station that doesn’t have a convenience store. The business model has changed,” Dacey said.
The bill would add convenience stores — defined as an establishment that “sells packaged and/or prepared foods and beverages and other convenience items for consumption off of the premises by travelers and highway uses” — to a list of uses that are allowed in the county’s limited industrial and general industrial zoning districts.
Filling stations are already allowed in both zones, and his bill would just make clear that convenience stores are also allowed, Dacey said.
“That’s where people are, especially down in [the Md.] 355/85 [areas],” he said. “There’s a concentration of people down that corridor, in those districts. And having convenient options for them for lunch and filling their vehicles without having to travel some distance to do so makes sense.”
Commissioner Joel Rensberger asked whether there’s a danger that convenience stores with areas for customers to eat at the location could have problems with parking, or blur the line between convenience stores and restaurants.
Rensberger noted that the Planning Commission would have a chance to review the amount of seating in a proposed site plan when it considers that plan.
Size is an important consideration in amending the language in the definition, commission Chairman Bob White said.
“I’m not so sure that under this definition, you couldn’t include a Costco as a filling station and convenience store, since it meets all those requirements,” White said. “So I think some sort of a limitation on size is really appropriate here, that it keeps it within workable, reasonable size, and yet you’re able to tell exactly what it is.”
While the bill would add convenience stores to the definition of automobile filling and service stations, the definition of automobile filling and service station specifically excludes truck stops and their related fuel and service facilities.
The Planning Commission also recommended a bill by Councilman Kai Hagen (D) that would add indoor sports recreation facilities without racetracks to the list of commercial uses allowed in the county’s planned unit development zoning districts.
With grocery stores and similar businesses moving out of smaller spaces for larger ones, creating opportunities for businesses such as climbing walls, trampoline facilities, or miniature golf to move in, Hagen told the commission.
The exclusion of racetracks was meant to prevent possible problems with noise, lights and other issues, he said.
Current county law doesn’t include a specific definition of a racetrack, but the definition of indoor sports recreation facility includes racetracks.
Several commissioners questioned whether the bill would prohibit running tracks at gyms or track and field facilities.
In discussion with the County Council and with county staff, the difference between a running track and a racetrack was a “fairly clean and clear distinction,” Hagen said.
White jokingly said that the bill would limit some economic opportunities for the county.
“I could only read this and say, sigh, there goes our indoor replacement for Pimlico [horse racing track],” he said.
“Well, you’d just have to have a different text amendment,” Hagen said.