Neighbors Oppose Proposed Gas Station Expansion
By Beth Milligan | Dec. 3, 2018
An attempt to build an expanded gas station on the corner of Eighth Street and Munson Avenue faces opposition from residential neighbors, who say the project will monopolize property meant for housing and bring traffic, noise, and light pollution.
Blarney Castle Oil Company is seeking to rezone a residential parcel at 2008 East Eighth Street directly north of the BP gas station and EZ Mart (pictured), also owned by the company. According to Patrick Bentley of Spicer Group, a consulting firm representing the project, Blarney Castle is “exploring the option of putting a brand-new gas station up” on the site.
“The first step was to seek the zoning change,” Bentley told Traverse City planning commissioners at a November 20 meeting, the first time the project was publicly discussed. “It’s pretty straightforward at this point. There have been no plans, they’ve done nothing at this point, because the zoning issue is the first thing…that needed to be taken care of.”
Blarney Castle is seeking to rezone its adjacent vacant parcel – which has been zoned R-1b (single-family dwelling) since at least 1958 and is big enough to be split into two housing lots – to C-2, or neighborhood center. C-2 zoning is intended to accommodate “small businesses primarily serving adjacent neighborhoods with day-to-day retail goods and services,” according to the city’s zoning code. Such properties should be “comprised of residentially-scaled buildings with limited parking areas and a strong pedestrian orientation…and minimize impacts (e.g., noise, light, traffic) on neighborhood residences.”
It’s that last section of the zoning code that most concerns nearby residents, who have started a petition opposing the rezoning request and say an expanded gas station and convenience store will negatively impact the immediate surrounding neighborhood.
“Concerns range from increased traffic at an already dangerous intersection, the loss of residential property, and the expansion of a commercial zone into our neighborhood when there is a lack of need,” says resident Sue Chang, who has been communicating with other residents about the proposal through a neighborhood association email thread. “We already have several gas stations and convenience and grocery stores nearby. Lighting, litter, and other forms of pollution that endanger the quality of East Bay are also concerns. We have yet to hear from anyone who would support this proposal.”
Ahgosa Trail resident Bradford Lystra echoes Chang’s concerns. He says Blarney Castle’s wooded vacant parcel – which immediately abuts a residential home to the north – serves as an important “residential buffer” between the neighborhood and the gas station. Eliminating that buffer would move the gas station “literally in the front and backyards of some of our friends and neighbors,” Lystra says. He also says increased traffic to a larger gas station would pose dangers for drivers at the Eighth and Munson intersection, which prevents left turns from Munson onto Eighth, requiring drivers to cut across opposing traffic to enter the gas station directly. Lystra calls the configuration a “traffic jam waiting to happen.”
Bentley declined to comment for this story, referring inquiries to Blarney Castle representatives, who did not return a request for comment. The company has not solicited input from residents about the rezoning request, according to the neighborhood association. At the November 20 planning commissioner meeting, some planning commissioners expressed skepticism about the project, suggesting the rezoning request could face an uphill battle.
“I don’t know if we want to be getting rid of residential property in our city, if that’s a priority,” said Planning Commissioner Brian McGillivary. “You’re getting rid of two residential lots…to make them commercial across from single-family homes.” McGillivary and other planning commissioners suggested they might be more amenable to a proposal that rezoned one of the two lots commercial and kept the other residential, though McGillivary conceded that “even then I have issues with it.” Neighbors told The Ticker they would still oppose a split-lot compromise, saying such a move wouldn’t mitigate their concerns.
City Planning Director Russ Soyring told planning commissioners a C-2 designation for the Blarney Castle parcel would be consistent with the city’s future land use map, which outlines desired potential uses of different city neighborhoods. However, the document notes it reflects a “long-range planning horizon” and does not “imply that short-term zoning decisions are appropriate.” Planning commissioners are therefore free to take into consideration factors like neighborhood concerns and do not have to go strictly by the future land use map, Soyring said. Rezoning to C-2 would also mean the property could be used for any C-2 uses, such as a pub, restaurant, retail space, or grocery store.
“We could rezone this, it could be completely changed, and they don’t go forward with the gas station,” McGillivary said. “And now we have a commercially zoned property that’s sold separately and could be anything.” Planning Commission Chair Linda Koebert said she was in “complete agreement” with McGillivary’s concerns, while Planning Commissioner Janet Fleshman cautioned project representatives she saw “no information that gives a compelling" reason to rezone the parcel.
Despite initial concerns, planning commissioners agreed to schedule a January 2 public hearing on the project – the next required step in the rezoning process. That move, a procedural one typically followed by the board if the applicant has submitted the necessary project information and fee, will allow the planning commission to hear from the public before debating and voting on the project. City staff will also present planning commissioners with an in-depth analysis of the rezoning request at the January 2 public hearing, Soyring told planning commissioners.