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Fred Meyer hopes to build fueling station in Maple Valley

The Maple Valley Planning Commission is currently looking at the possibility of changing the city code to allow Fred Meyer to build a fueling station.

In a letter written in December 2010 to City Manager David Johnston, Peter Powell, president of the Bellevue-based Powell Development, the company building the new Fred Meyer at Four Corners, requested a change in the city code to allow them to build a fueling station, which they are currently prohibited from doing.

The Safeway, also located at Four Corners, has a fueling station, which Fred Meyer believes makes it necessary for them to have one as well. Safeway’s station was approved by King County before the city was incorporated in 1997.

“To be competitive, Fred Meyer feels that having a fuel center is an absolute imperative,” wrote Powell.

According to Ty Peterson, Maple Valley’s community development director, Fred Meyer is unable to build it due to restrictive allowance on retail fueling stations in community business zoning.

The issue has been sent to the planning commission, which is currently in the process of examining it. If a decision is reached, it will be referred to the City Council, which will then have the opportunity to vote on it.

The change to the city code, according to Powell, would be very minor.

“We believe the code change could be very specific and not much of a change at all,” he said.

The Fred Meyer fueling station would have an electric charging station and would be located in the interior parking area of the Town Square.

Several gas stations owners in Maple Valley, however, believe a Fred Meyer fueling station would devastate their businesses.

“It will affect every station in this valley,” said Eric VanRuff.

VanRuff has owned the Chevron gas station and Wilderness Auto Service since 2005, located next to the Maple Valley Highway near Southeast 237th Street. Operating since 1975, VanRuff stated when the Safeway opened their fueling station,  half of the station’s business was lost and employees were laid off. In this economy, he explained, it is essential for him to keep every customer he can. While gas sales are important, he said, it also helps advertise the small store and auto service shop.

“If you lose anyone of those things, you lose everything,” VanRuff said. “These box stores aren’t in the gas business. They’re making their money inside of the store.”

This attitude is shared by several other gas station owners in Maple Valley. David Hall, who owns the Shell station on state Route 169, voiced his dismay at the Planning Commission’s Aug. 3 meeting. Like VanRuff, Hall’s business was negatively impacted when the Safeway opened its fueling station. Not only did he have to lay off employees, but he was no longer able to donate fuel to the Maple Valley Food Bank.

“It is important to note that building more gas stations does not create more cars,” Hall said, according to the Aug. 3 meeting minutes. “The same amount of fuel is going to be sold within the community, and tax revenues are not going to change either way. Over half a dozen small family-owned businesses are going to be threatened.”

Another gas station owner, Ghirmai Abraha, who owns the 76 gas station and Circle K store across from Safeway, spoke at the Aug. 3 meeting. Having spent money renovating the store, he said he does not believe his business will survive if Fred Meyer opens a gas station.

“It’s going to kill him,” VanRuff said.

Yet, Powell argued tax revenue from gas sales would in fact increase, because the Fred Meyer would keep people in Maple Valley who otherwise go to shop in Covington or Kent and use the gas stations in those cities.

“If you do whatever you can do to keep the customers here, it is going to help them (the city) in the long run,” he said.

The fueling station, he argued, is vital to drawing customers into the store.

“They (Fred Meyer) want to offer all the services to the people,” he said. “A fuel center is a great way of having the customer come in.”

In addition, it’s good customer service, which will be needed in order to compete with Safeway.

“It’s something the cutomer expects,” he said. “It seems it would also level the playing field. Why should Safeway have the advantage?”

While it is understandable for gas station owners to be concerned, Powell called it self-serving for them to expect the city to protect their businesses from fair competition.

“It’s not the American way,” he said.

He also added Safeway has not tried to prevent them from opening up a gas station.

“They (Safeway) never came to a public hearing saying, ‘we don’t want Fred Meyer,” Powell said.

In an effort to address some concerns, Powell explained the fueling station would be placed at the rear of the property and be at least 200 feet away from a major arterial, where it would not be visible from the Maple Valley Highway.

“They’re willing to not have it on the street,” he said. “So basically you bury it.”

To the gas station owners, however, it is not much of a consolation.

“It doesn’t matter where it is,” VanRuff said.

VanRuff’s wife, Kari, who runs the Chevron station with him, believes it will eventually put all of the locally owned gas stations out of business.

“If the city wants to see boarded up gas stations, then do it,” she said. “It won’t happen right away, but eventually.”

Despite the tension, Powell stated Fred Meyer is not there to hurt local businesses.

“They really do want to become good neighbors,” he said. “They’d like to be a part of the community.”

 

 

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