Sheetz seeks to sell alcohol at store near Norwin elementary school
Sheetz Inc. wants to sell beer at one of its stores located across the street from a Norwin elementary school.
The Altoona-based convenience store chain submitted plans to the North Huntingdon planning commission for expanding its convenience store at the corner of Carpenter Lane and Route 30 to provide seating for 30 customers, said Ryan Fonzi, North Huntingdon associate planning director.
The added seating — where customers could drink alcohol — is necessary to qualify under Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board regulations for a restaurant liquor license Sheetz wants for its location across from Stewartsville Elementary School.
The planning commission this week accepted the Sheetz site plan for expanding the Carpenter Lane store, but Fonzi said that action will be deferred until its May meeting. The commission normally accepts a site plan, then reviews it the following month. The planning commission makes recommendations to township commissioners, who vote whether to approve the site plan.
Sheetz has tentative plans to begin construction to expand the store this fall, pending township approvals, said Nicholas Ruffner, a Sheetz spokesman. The company also needs township approval to transfer a liquor license to that site.
“We are committed to being the best neighbor we can be in each community in which our stores operate — that is our goal moving forward with township officials on this project,” Ruffner said.
Sheetz last year received approval to sell alcohol at two other North Huntingdon stores: one at Ronda Court and another on North Thompson Lane at the intersection of Route 30. Sheetz expanded those stores to include the required seating in order to sell beer and wine, which also requires food to be available, according to LCB regulations.
The convenience store chain transferred two of the 24 restaurant liquor licenses it bought from a Western Pennsylvania Pizza Hut franchisee to those North Huntingdon stores. Sheetz holds 172 liquor licenses in the state, including 23 pending approval and nine classified as being in safekeeping, according to the LCB website.
Sheetz sells beer at more than 140 stores in the state, Ruffner said. It has 10 licenses to sell alcohol in Westmoreland County, 20 in Allegheny County, three in Fayette and two in Armstrong, according to the LCB.
Township commissioners were told a year ago by Brian Dinges, Sheetz senior real estate site selector, that the company was not seeking to sell alcohol at the Carpenter Lane store.
Ruffner stated in an email Wednesday that Sheetz has not changed its philosophy regarding alcohol sales near the school.
“We sell beer at several stores across Pennsylvania which are located near schools of all different types,” Ruffner said.
Sheetz lawyers are appealing an LCB ruling that denied the company a liquor license in Centre County because of a store’s proximity to a Bald Eagle Area elementary and high school, according to the Centre Daily Times. The LCB denied the license application after the school district objected to the nearby store selling alcohol.
The fact that a school or school property is within 300 feet of a store location does not, by itself, bar the LCB from granting a liquor license under the state liquor code, agency spokesman Shawn Kelly said. The LCB, however, has the discretion to approve or deny the transfer of a liquor license based on the proximity of an institution such as a school, or its grounds, and the premises where alcohol would be served, Kelly said.
Barb Viola, Norwin School Board president, said it was premature to offer an opinion on the issue but said it will be interesting to see “if anyone from the Sheetz organization or the North Huntingdon Township planning commission presents anything to the school district about this proposal, given that Stewartsville (Elementary) is a stone’s throw away from Sheetz.”
Township Commissioner Fran Bevan, who attended the planning commission meeting, raised objections last year to transferring the liquor licenses to Sheetz stores. Following Monday’s meeting, Bevan said it would be an issue when Sheetz seeks approval to transfer a liquor license to the Carpenter Lane store, given its proximity to the elementary school.
While a Sheetz spokesman last year told commissioners about safeguards the company puts in place to prevent customers from drinking too much, “all the safeguards in the world are not worth two cents if a child is killed,” Bevan said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .