September 20, 2012
The High Point
City Council on Monday, Sept. 17, in a long and unusually heated meeting, approved a rezoning request to allow the construction of a 10-pump Sheetz Inc. gas station, convenience store and fast food restaurant on the south side of West Lexington Avenue, between Westchester Drive and Kentucky Street.
The Sheetz gas station will occupy five lots – three zoned Limited Business District and now or previously used for commercial purposes, an undeveloped gravel parking lot facing West Lexington Avenue that was zoned residential but was formerly used for a gas station, and a lot that was zoned residential on the corner of West Lexington Avenue and Kentucky Street that contains a house.
The City Council voted unanimously to change the land-use designation of 0.65 acres from Low Density Residential to Local/Convenience Commercial. It voted 7 to 1 to rezone 1.5 acres from Limited Business and Residential Single Family-9 to Conditional Zoning Limited Business District.
Councilmember Mike Pugh was the only councilmember to vote against the zoning change. Councilmember Britt Moore did not attend the meeting.
Just as the canonical question for a candidate running against a sitting president is, "Are you better off today than you were four years ago?" the question for opponents of rezoning for commercial development is, "Would you like to have this in your neighborhood?"
Jim McGee, a Florida Street neighbor of the planned Sheetz, posed the question to the councilmembers.
McGee said, "The main question is, 'Would each of you like this service station in your neighborhood?'"
Pugh, at least, responded to the question, saying he already had a convenience store, although not a Sheetz, near his house, and that it generates constant noise.
"Would I want one in my neighborhood?" Pugh said. "No, but I have one in my neighborhood. I can't in good conscience vote to put one there, because I know what you're going to hear, day in and day out. This is in too close a proximity to a neighborhood."
Sheetz brought a virtual army to argue in favor of the land-use and zoning changes: Anthony Foderaro, who works for Sheetz Inc.'s real estate division; Smith Moore Leatherwood Attorney Tom Terrell; real estate consultant Judy Stalder; transportation consultant John Davenport; and a squadron of engineers and other assorted specialists.
Playing defense for opponents in the neighborhood were McGee and Hazel Gilbreath, another Florida Street resident.
McGee said that houses behind the site of the proposed Sheetz already have drainage problems, which he argued the Sheetz would exacerbate. He said he has seen an acre of land in front of his house two feet deep in water after heavy rains.
Terrell argued that the Sheetz would not increase flooding problems because the company is required to install drainage or filtering to handle any runoff the increased impermeable surface of the gas station causes.
McGee's main argument was that a Sheetz station would simply be too much for the site.
Sheetz stations combine gas stations, fast food restaurants and convenience stores. Foderaro and other Sheetz representatives said the West Lexington Avenue Sheetz, with the 10 gas pumps, would be the smallest design Sheetz uses – a neighborhood model rather than the supersized version Sheetz uses on highways.
Terrell said, "It's not one of your monster Sheetz."
McGee said he didn't care.
"This thing is 24-hour sound, 24-hour lights," he said. "I don't care how you dampen that." He added, "This is a commercial corner. But it's not a super-duper commercial corner that can justify this type and size of station."
Gilbreth, who said she has lived on Florida Street for 30 years, said the neighbors she has talked to are against the service station.
"We would welcome a neighborhood store, bank, office building – anything that fits," she said. "Help us get something that fits our neighborhood and we'll be very happy to have it."
The very fact that the neighborhood has opposed such other uses was the reason that McGee's, Gilbreth's and Pugh's opposition was ineffective. The votes to approve the rezoning were there from the beginning because of earlier neighborhood efforts to prevent development on the land.
There have been no successful zoning applications west of the West Lexington Avenue and Westchester Drive intersection since 1999, but the City Council and the High Point
Planning and Zoning Commission have rejected rezoning requests by several applicants, two of whom would have used approximately the same site as the proposed Sheetz for an office building and a dentist office.
The most recent rezoning request was rejected by the City Council in 2000. The property owner appealed the decision all the way to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which backed the City Council.
Given that history, and High Point
's current 12 percent unemployment rate, when Sheetz came along requesting a rezoning to build a station that would create 30 to 40 full- and part-time jobs, the City Council vote was a given.
Some councilmembers said off the record that, in essence, neighbors had used up their political capital by opposing less obtrusive uses of the properties.
Another fact weighing against the opponents of the Sheetz station was that the site had been used for service stations and convenience stores of various kinds for years, and that some neighboring businesses – such as Tipsy'z Tavern & Grill – are unlikely to object to the noise.
Stalder said, "I don't know that the noise at Sheetz convenience store is going to rattle the boys at Tipsy'z Tavern."
Noise was an issue raised in regard to the rezoning request by both the City Council and the Planning and Zoning Commission. Despite efforts by councilmembers and commissioners, neither board was able to get a straight answer as to whether or not Sheetz would turn off outside music at the station at night.
At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Foderaro, after some questioning, said the station's employees could adjust the volume of the music, although he made no promises that they would.
At the Monday City Council meeting, Foderaro acknowledged that employees at Sheetz stations can turn off outside music, but gave an equally equivocal answer as to whether or not they would.
"We can control the music," he said. "We feel like it's part of the Sheetz experience."
How much neighbors want to go through "the Sheetz experience" is disputed. McGee and Gilbreth said neighbors they've talked to oppose the station; Stalder and others representing Sheetz said that neighbors who attended community meetings on the proposal were favorable toward it.High Point
Mayor Becky Smothers said that, at a gas station, she watches the numbers whiz by on the pump rather than listening to music.
"Most of us are lamenting how much gas costs," she said. "We're really not listening to music."
The most entertaining item on the City Council agenda was a text amendment to the High Point
development ordinance proposed by the High Point
City Project to add video sweepstakes establishments to the development ordinance's permitted use schedule and table of off-street parking requirements....continued on page 2