BEAUFORT — The fate of a proposed gas station along Lennoxille Road will be decided by Beaufort commissioners next month, though the town’s planning board recommended officials deny a special-use permit for the business.
With the possibility of underground fuel storage tanks roughly 20 feet from their property, just out the kitchen door, Laurie and Bob Cunningham oppose a plan that would allow a gas station on an adjoining property.
“Convenience stores sell tobacco, alcohol, lottery and gas. They operate from early morning until late at night, seven days a week. They require commercial delivery trucks that increase traffic concerns. Toxins from gas storage and vent pipes pollute. None of this is quaint or community-friendly,” Ms. Cunningham alleged during an appeal Monday to the Beaufort Planning Board.
Her comments kicked off a stream of organized opposition during the panel’s regular meeting, with a total of 15 individuals speaking against a special-use permit application for a Jim Dandy gas station at 1550 Lennoxville Road.
The advisory board, which typically meets to little fanfare, hosted 100 participants during its virtual meeting on Zoom and, in a split vote, recommended commissioners deny the permit. Among the opposition were speakers who identified as a toxicologist, an addiction specialist and more, all who said they lived in the vicinity of the proposed gas station and would like to see the permit application denied.
The 0.478-acre parcel was previously home to a gas station and is currently zoned light industrial district. The future land-use plan shows the property being used for medium-density residential development.
Tuesday, planning staff confirmed the town had been inundated with public feedback on the proposal, including some support for the Jim Dandy.
Davis Fuels President Jim Davis also addressed the planning board Monday, expressing a commitment to fitting the business into the neighborhood as a needed service, particularly in the event of a hurricane.
“It is personally important to me,” Mr. Davis told the board. “…My primary concern is not financial – certainly I wouldn’t be able to do it if there wasn’t a financial benefit – but it is a commitment to community that I believe I exhibit in other markets. And I would love to be able to prove to Beaufort and its citizenship and residents throughout, especially the neighboring properties, how committed we can be.”
The planners were split on the matter, however. After hearing from the public, Mr. Davis and his representatives and reviewing the criteria for issuing a special-use permit, member Ralph Merrill motioned to recommend the town board of commissioners approve the permit, contingent upon a traffic study being done and the company providing additional information on safety and public health impacts.
Though Mr. Merrill said he didn’t “identify any showstoppers” when reviewing the permit criteria, the motion failed for lack of a second.
Two other planning board members, Diane Meelheim and Chairperson Ryan Neve, instead lent their votes to an alternative motion from member John LoPiccolo to recommend denial, “based upon this not confirming with the town’s land-use plan.” Mr. LoPiccolo also recommended commissioners require a traffic study and environmental impact assessment.
Planning board member Jeff Vreugdenhil was recused from participation in the matter as he is Mr. Davis’ father-in-law. Member Aaron Willis was not present.
The opposition to the proposal came during the general public comment for the planning board, with neighbors raising concerns over traffic, pedestrian safety, pollution, a reduction in property values, a lack of harmony with the surrounding community and more. During board deliberation, the Zoom meeting’s chat function was disabled by staff.
Several speakers acknowledged the need for a new fueling outlet – Beaufort has one gas station – but asked the company to consider alternate locations.
Mr. Davis, however, said he had undertaken an extensive site search of locations around town, eventually honing in on the Lennoxville Road site that is the current home of Austin Veterinary Animal Hospital.
Tuesday, in a statement to the News-Times, Mr. Davis thanked participants for their involvement in Monday’s deliberations.
“As we discuss both the comments and suggestions offered to date, we remain confident that there is an opportunity to work together to improve this property while also providing a much needed solution for the neighboring community and the Town of Beaufort as a result,” he said, in part. “We will continue engaging with community members who have so graciously allowed us the privilege to do so and, with their help, work to incorporate mutually beneficial improvements into the proposed design as we prepare for the next step in the permitting process.”
The planning board’s 3-1 recommendation to deny the permit and require a traffic survey and an environmental impact statement now goes before town commissioners at their Monday work session. The board is unlikely to discuss the specifics of the proposal, but is expected to instead set an evidentiary hearing for Monday, Aug. 9.
Earlier this month, town attorney Arey Grady advised the commission not to engage in dialogue with the public over the proposal, citing the board’s legal obligations in accordance with conducting the required evidentiary hearing.
If commissioners issue a special-use permit – which can include board-mandated stipulations – other state and federal permitting would be required for the gas station project to proceed, town planning and inspections director Kyle Garner confirmed.
Contact Jackie Starkey at 252-726-7081, ext. 225; email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter @jackieccnt.