City leaders’ concerns that a 24-hour operation might not fit in a residential neighborhood could derail controversial plans for a Sheetz gas station in Northeast Raleigh.
The proposal for the corner of New Hope and Buffaloe roads got a hearing Wednesday from a Raleigh City Council committee, and developers didn’t win much support.
“The first piece of what’s going on at New Hope Road shouldn’t be a gas station,” said Councilman John Odom, whose district includes the area. “I don’t want this to become a Capital Boulevard.”
Neighbors of the currently vacant property staunchly oppose Sheetz. They worry that a gas station will erode the character of their neighborhood because of problems like trash, traffic and loitering. They’ve been lobbying council members via email for weeks, and they’ve submitted a special petition that will require a supermajority of the council to vote for the application to move it forward.
“A gas station will damage the tenuous pedestrians and bike connections that currently exist in our community,” Michele McIntosh told city councilors Wednesday.
The property owner, Joan Edwards, said she needs to sell the land to support an ailing family member, and Sheetz is a willing buyer. “The only reason I’m selling this property is to look after him,” she said. “That land would lay there until hell freezes over except to look after him. ... I don’t understand why they’re so upset about a gas station.”
The main issue at Wednesday’s meeting was whether Sheetz fits the “neighborhood business” zoning designation in place at the suburban intersection. Councilman Russ Stephenson said a 24-hour gas station that has fast food and a car wash “seems far out of character with anything anyone would describe as neighborhood business. ... The people in the surrounding neighborhood are going to be asleep at 3 a.m.”
Stephenson and other committee members asked developers to consider limiting the hours of operation. Mack Paul, an attorney for the developer, said that’s a possibility. “There is some internal conversation going on about that,” he said.
But Sheetz is likely to back out if it can’t stay open 24 hours a day – that’s a key component of its business model. Still, another gas station chain could take an interest in the site.
It’s unclear how the council might vote on another gas station proposal. Odom says he opposes all gas stations at the site, while Stephenson suggested he might support one with limited hours.
Deputy city attorney Ira Botvinick said that will be the main focus when the proposal returns to the committee on July 24.
“It seems to be the hours of operation … is really the ultimate question you’re going to be looking at,” he said.