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Residents cheer defeat of RaceTrac gas station


BRADENTON - Wanda Uhlir had to struggle to keep her composure Thursday outside the County Commission chambers.

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Her voice breaking with joy, not sadness, she talked about the community's successful fight to prevent a RaceTrac gas station and convenience store from opening in Whitfield Estates, a historic and established community just north of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.

The Manatee County Commission voted 5-2 at its land use meeting to deny the preliminary site plan for the gas station and convenience store at the corner of North Tamiami Trail and Pearl Avenue, at the site of a former furniture store.

County Commissioners Larry Bustle and Donna Hayes voted against the denial.

"To see something like that come into the neighborhood would be a travesty," Uhlir said about the RaceTrac, noting that she was injured in a car accident at the intersection. "That traffic is unbelievable."

Attorney Mark Barnebey, who was representing RaceTrac Corp., had said in the meeting that the site plan was compatible with the surrounding community and that the project met comprehensive plans and code requirements.

"They are ready to go if they get the approval today," he said, calling the project "shovel-ready."

Before the vote, he said that he and his client had met with the neighbors. "We have worked very hard with the neighborhood to address their concerns," he said. "A convenience store is a compatible use."

Afterward, as small groups of residents walked around with big smiles on their faces, the RaceTrac people stood in the corner outside the chambers.

"We're disappointed," Barnebey said. "We'll have to go back and re-evaluate where we're at."

Norm Luppino, a former planner for Manatee County who was representing the community, told the commissioners that the community was concerned about the scale and operation of the proposed 24-hour gas station and store, even with all the modifications that had been requested and complied with.

"This is a large facility as it relates to gas stations," he said. The design of project has 36 percent more parking space as provided by the code, Luppino said, which would indicate that they're expecting a high volume of traffic. This is much more intense than any other gas station and convenience store.

Indeed, the 24 gas pumps (including diesel) raised several concerns about the scale of the project, though Barnebey said the site had an 18,000-square-foot building currently owned by the Bank of Commerce, and a larger building had actually been approved for the site. In fact, he said, had the site not been rezoned for a bigger building, it could have become a gas station and convenience store without any approvals needed from the county commissioners.

Several residents of the surrounding community spoke at the meeting, with common themes being traffic, noise, concern about crime and fear that their property values would be ruined.

Harlen Tribble, a 34-year resident, said he chose Whitfield-Ballantine because it was a community knit together by laws and regulations. "I knew if I moved into that community I'd live in the same type of community I was looking at," he said. "We have a nice community. I knew I was not going to do any harm to that community. Now we find that greed exceeding need. We do not have any need for more gasoline stations, and we don't need any more convenience stores.

"Put yourself in our place. Would you want this to happen to you?" he asked.

John O'Keefe said he's lived there for 23 years. "It's looking good now. If you approve it, you'll bury Whitfield," he said.

A couple of speakers submitted lists of names of people who had signed petitions against the RaceTrac.

Mike Holderness also said that the traffic will affect property values, and that his friend Mary was scared. "It does not fit in this neighborhood," he declared, and was warned to only address the commissioners after he looked at the people from RaceTrac Corp. and asked, "If anyone would like to live next to a RaceTrac, pleas stand up."

Another concern raised was that truckers in big rigs would drive through to save 5 cents a gallon on diesel fuel, disrupting quiet streets where signs are posted that supposedly prohibit trucks, save those making deliveries in the community.

The managers of gas stations and convenience stores in the area also spoke, saying that the arrival of RaceTrac would cost a number of people their jobs at a time when the county wants to grow employment and business.

Melinda Pardy, the manager of the 7/11 store across the street, said they were denied permission to sell gas at their site years ago, and that some of her workers would be let go if the RaceTrac opened. "You cannot convince me that it is good for the economy," she said.

The issue of compatibility and consistency was also raised by the county commissioners in their comments and questions to Barnebey and the county's staff.

While Barnebey said the commissioners had heard mostly emotion from residents opposed to the RaceTrac, Commissioner Joe McClash rejected the idea that residents were speaking from emotion. . "I've heard from people living in that community. I consider them experts on their community," he said.

"We've heard from other gas station operators. That's not emotion. I didn't hear a lot of emotion. I heard a lot of facts."

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said that while she thought residents were acting from emotion, it was because they were trying to protect their neighborhood from something that's not compatible. "I think a gas station could go there," she said. But, "I don't think 24 pumps is compatible."

Hayes said she believed the whole issue was about property rights, and that rejecting the site plan would infringe on those rights. . "I just don't feel comfortable denying this," she said. "I see this as a plus. This is all the more reason why we need more businesses."

Bustle said he also backed the RaceTrac, saying he didn't believe that it was not compatible. "Those are not persuasive, they're subjective," he said about what he heard from residents. But, he said, commissioners should recognize and respect the emotion.

Still, Bustle said, "It's cut through the center by a seven-lane arterial, so you have to expect things like this."

Ron Getman said he was opposed to the RaceTrac. "It's very clear that our community does not want this facility," he said. "Is this the right thing to replace it with? No."

After the vote, Commission Chairman Gwendolyn Brown said, "This is very intense for that area. I do not think this is the spot. It's a bit much."

In other action at the land use meeting, commissioners:

  • Agreed to continue the hearing on Bayou Point Estates to Oct. 1.
  • Approved 7-0 an amendment on the McGuire property zoning, a day care center land development code amendment, a plan amendment on county initiated land use map corrections, and a plan amendment on errors and omissions.
  • Approved 6-0 a motion to continue the hearing on NAP Duke Ranch LLC and Silverleaf to Oct. 1.
  • Approved 7-0 a traffic map series update.


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