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Dispute flares over store at gas station

Evanston aldermen Monday agreed to longer operating hours for a gas station convenience store. But the station’s owners say the new hours are still not enough to let them to stay in business.

Gas station attorney Bernard Citron.

Evanston aldermen Monday agreed to longer operating hours for a gas station convenience store. But the station’s owners say the new hours are still not enough to let them to stay in business.

Gas station attorney Bernard Citron.

During an acrimonious Planning and Development Committee meeting, Bernard Citron, an attorney for the owners of the Marathon station at 555 Howard St., said the station makes so little money selling gas that it needs to operate the convenience store 24-hours a day, 7-days a week to be profitable.

A previous owner, as he was seeking make the station more attractive to potential buyers so he could sell it and retire, won approval from the city in 2006 to open a convenience store at the site. He agreed to limit the store’s hours to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and keep it closed on Sundays. Those hours matched the hours he operated the station.

The new owners, Hafiz and Nasser Yaqoob, took over a few months later and operating the convenience store 24-hours a day. They claim they never knew about the restriction on operating hours until city officials, responding to neighbors’ complaints about frequent police calls to the site, cracked down earlier this spring.

The Marathon station.

Citron tried to argue that the city — having licensed the station each year in the interim — now is barred from enforcing the limit on operating hours.

Alderman Ann Rainey, whose 8th Ward includes the station site, said the owners should have investigated the details of what they were purchasing.

She said that under the previous owner there were not "hundreds of police calls a year to the station" as she claimed there are now.

She said she doesn’t want to close the station, but wants it to operate within the law.

The city’s community and economic development director, Lehman Walker, said staff recommended against granting expanded hours because "approving the 24-hour operation would be legalizing an illegal use."

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, sought to find a compromise — noting that a gas station in his ward keeps its convenience store open until midnight, but also stops selling gas then. But the Howard Street station is in a different zoning district where 24-hour operation of gas stations is permitted, but convenience stores require a special use permit under which the city can limit hours of operation.

Rainey said she’d met twice with the station’s owners but could never work out a compromise. But Citron said the alderman had been unwilling to consider any compromise.

Rainey then said she’d consider letting the convenience store operate from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, and the aldermen ultimately voted to approve that expanded schedule.

But Citron said the owners were likely to have to close the station and then sue the city to overturn the restrictions. Owner Nasser Yaqoob said he’s already behind on mortgage payments for the property because of the reduced operating hours since the city crackdown.

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