Midtown Raleigh News

Planning commission recommends approval of controversial rezoning

The City Council is expected to consider Tuesday a controversial rezoning application that likely would mean a 24-hour Sheetz is built at the intersection of New Hope and Buffaloe roads.

The Planning Commission last week recommended the council approve the application by a vote of 5-3, though many of those voting in favor said they were torn about their decision.

The application has been the source of heated debate during the past few months, with nearby residents staunchly opposed because they worry a gas station will erode the character of their neighborhood because of problems like trash, traffic and loitering.

The residents have submitted a special petition opposing the rezoning that requires a supermajority of the council to vote for the application to move it forward.

Councilman John Odom, who represents the area, has said he is opposed to a gas station being built at the corner. Councilman Russ Stephenson, an at-large member of the council, said late last week that he is studying the case but has concerns about whether any gas station should be located in what’s known as a “neighborhood business” district or in immediate proximity to residential development.

“I question whether a 24-hour gas station is an appropriate use,” he said.

Many of the planning commissioners who voted in favor of the rezoning said they understand the neighbor’s concerns. But, because the application is consistent with city rules, which do allow for a gas station, they felt they had to recommend it.

Steve Schuster, a member of the commission, said the members are tasked with applying the rules the council has set forth, even when they personally disagree.

“I feel that I have no choice but to recommend approval [and] urge the council to listen to the neighborhood and draw their own conclusions since they have, as elected officials, much more authority than we have,” he said.

Mitch Fluhrer, who voted against the application, said a gas station would not be the right fit for the neighborhood and that the commission should look at applications like it on a case-by-case basis.

“I think the long-term sustainability of this area is being sacrificed for a short-term focus,” he said.

Sheetz speaks

In an unusual move, representatives from both the development company and Sheetz talked with the commission about the proposal before the vote. The Sheetz name appears nowhere on the application – nor is it required to – but neighbors have assumed for months it would be the brand to build on the corner.

Representatives from the Crown Companies and Sheetz said they have agreed to conditions that will limit how much a gas station and convenience store would affect the neighbors, including allowing fewer pumps than average.

But Joe Johnson, a neighbor opposed to the rezoning, said those assurances are not enough.

“Whether it’s one pump or 12 pumps, the message we’re sending is we don’t think a gas station is appropriate,” he said.

Members of the planning board commission also have raised the question of whether they or the council should recommend changes to the city’s rules about where gas stations can be located.

Mitchell Silver, the head of the planning department, said doing so would not be as simple as prohibiting gas stations in certain areas but would require looking at possible limitations and sorting out where else in the city gas stations should be allowed.

“It is not as easy as just prohibiting gasoline sales going forward,” he said. “It’s a little but more fine-grained than that.”