August 30, 2012Over intense neighborhood opposition, the High Point Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday, August 28 approved a land-use amendment and zoning change that would 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 would occupy five parcels – three zoned Limited Business District and now or previously used for commercial purposes, an undeveloped gravel parking lot facing West Lexington Avenue that is zoned residential but was formerly used for a gas station and a lot zoned residential on the corner of West Lexington Avenue and Kentucky Street that contains a house.
The commercial uses already on the land include a music store and a convenience store.
The commission approved changing the land-use designation for 0.65 acres of the site from Low Density residential to Local/Convenience Commercial and rezoning 1.6 acres of the site from Limited Business District and Residential Single Family-9 to Conditional Zoning Limited Business.
Both votes were 6 to 2, with Commissioners Martha Shepherd and Carson Lomax casting the "no" votes. Commissioners Cynthia Davis, Mark Walsh, John McKenzie, Andrew Putnam, Marie Stone and Jim Davis voted to recommend the land-use and zoning changes to the City Council.
Part of the land in question has for years been used for small gas station-convenience stores, but the prospect of a well-lit, 10-pump Sheetz mega gas-station/store/restaurant operating 24/7 on the site brought out numerous residents of nearby neighborhoods to speak against the proposal. The only people who spoke in favor of the proposal were representatives of Sheetz Inc. and of MAMI LLC, a corporation representing the property owners who applied for the land-use and zoning changes.
It didn't help that, a block west and across West Lexington Avenue to the north, Northwood Elementary School is at the cul-de-sac that is the terminus of Florida Street. Many speakers cited the proximity of the school as a reason for rejecting the proposed Sheetz, which, according to High Point Planning Director Lee Burnette, will generate 278 trips during the morning rush hour, 376 trips during the evening rush hour and 5,339 trips a day overall.
Even opponents of the rezoning acknowledged that commercial uses will eventually reach the proposed Sheetz site from the west. But there have been no successful zoning applications west of the West Lexington Avenue and Westchester Drive intersection since 1999.
Several such applications were filed, but surrounding property owners filed successful protest petitions and the applications were denied. In 2000, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council denied a zoning request for land to the west of the proposed Sheetz. The property owner appealed the decision all the way to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which backed the City Council.
The debate over the zoning request was ironic because numerous people involved, including several planning and zoning commissioners and Smith Moore Leatherwood Attorney Tom Terrell, who represented the applicants, grew up in the neighborhood.
Terrell said he grew up in a house several blocks away in which his parents still live. He said the application was no bait-and-switch effort to change the character of the neighborhood. He said, "Fifty years ago, this was a commercial intersection."
Shepherd voted against the application after showing frustration at having to ask questions repeatedly, among them the hours the Sheetz would operate (24 hours a day), whether there would be outdoor music, even at night, like other Sheetz stations (yes) and whether lights on the site would bother neighbors.
Anthony Foderaro, who works for Sheetz Inc.'s real estate division, said the station's employees could adjust the volume of the music, although he made no promises that they would. He also defied believability when he said that 100 percent of Sheetz lighting cuts off at the property line of each station, and that there would be no spillover into surrounding residential areas.
"The reality is it does not shine out of our property, so it doesn't shine anywhere," Foderaro said. "It stays where it should be."
Foderaro's claim that light does not escape a Sheetz station – visually disproven by anyone who has seen one at night – is probably based on a misinterpretation of a technical fact included in the application – that Sheetz uses "full cutoff luminaire" lights – encased lights from which light does not shine at an angle higher than 90 degrees from the vertical light pole. That makes Sheetz stations lousy choices for nighttime helicopter landings – not invisible at night to neighbors.
Judy Stalder, who also represented the applicants working with Sheetz, did say the company would use trees or bushes to block lines of sight between the station and neighboring houses – at least half of which, she emphasized repeatedly, would be evergreens.
Stalder occupies an odd position in High Point development. She is the regulatory affairs director of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition (TREBIC), represents applicants before the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council, and also seems to work as a consultant for the City of High Point Planning and Development Department – sometimes in close sequence.
Most of the neighbors who spoke against the proposal focused on the size of Sheetz stations, which are sort of the Mall of America of gas stations.
James McGee, who lives on Florida Street, said that, once you get behind the one house Sheetz intends to buy, houses in the neighborhood rapidly reach quarter- to half-million-dollars in value. He cited Northwood Elementary School and said that there is already flooding from the plateau the Sheetz station would occupy, even without it being built.
"I don't have anything against Sheetz per se," he said. "I just don't think this is the right location for this size of an operation."
Commissioner McKenzie said he was worried about the traffic near Northwood, but voted for the land-use and zoning changes.
"The site is an eyesore," he said. "I'd rather see the Sheetz come there than something else that would obviously be much worse."
The Sheetz proposal will be go to the High Point City Council on Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.