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RaceTrac Zoning Passes as Wetlands Issue Looms

Hillsborough County Commissioners approved zoning for a RaceTrac gas station at Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road. The development go-ahead, though, depends on the board's wetlands impact decision, which won't be voted on before the summer.

 

Hillsborough County Commissioners, sitting as the land-use hearing board, approved a zoning application for development of a RaceTrac gas station and convenience store in Brandon, on 2.5 acres of wetlands at the corner of Lumsden Road and Kings Avenue.

That was the easy part.

The hard part is yet to come, when the commissioners, reconvened as the Environmental Protection Commission, will again take up the development application, this time to decide if wetlands impacts should, or should not be, denied.

"If you cannot impact the wetlands you cannot develop the property," acknowledged Vin Marchetti, the attorney for both the property owners and RaceTrac, which wants to develop the property.

Confused? You should be.

"To say this has become a confusing matter is an understatement," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, at the April 9 land-use hearing.

That's because the 7-member Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners wear several hats. In this instance, they convene also as the land-use hearing board (to address zoning issues) and as the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC).

Adam Gormley, who as assistant county attorney handles land-use and zoning cases, instructed the board very carefully to "keep the records clean" — meaning that as one body they can address only the applicable zoning issues and as the other, to consider the wetlands issue.

It is what Marchetti asked for in December, when the commissioners, sitting as the land-use hearing board, agreed to remand the issue so that it could be addressed as two separate applications.

As for the vote itself, to approve the zoning application, commissioners Les Miller (District 3) and Mark Sharpe (District 7) voted against. Commissioner Sandy Murman (District 1) approved the motion. Commissioners Ken Hagan (District 5), Kevin Beckner (District 6), Al Higginbotham (District 4) and Victor Crist (District 2) voted approval as well, but with caution that their votes might not be the same when it came to the wetlands issue.

"To not support this [the zoning application] today would be inconsistent," Higginbotham said. "I don't think this will eventually make it through when we get to the wetlands stage."

Murman voted in favor of the measure, and appears poised to do so as well on environmental concerns, "going back to those really tough decisions we have to make about our economic development," she said, noting the addition of 40 jobs and "increasing our property tax bill from $300 to $100,000 a year."

Crist said he wrestles with decisions like this in these difficult economic times, when the county needs to "move forward for the sake of keeping people employed and stimulating our economy." But, he added, while he was willing to approve the zoning application, "I retain my vote, which could be different in the EPC portion of this."

Calling it an "extremely interesting and challenging case," Hagan said "do not assume my decision today will be same when we get back to the wetlands issue."

Before approving the zoning application April 9, some board members questioned why they should have to address the wetlands issue separately.

"It seems to me we're putting the cart before the horse on this issue," said Miller, who added that the two issues should be considered together.

"I think we should continue this until we hear from the EPC," Sharpe said.

Commissioner Beckner offered that the board could vote first as the land-use hearing board, then adjourn and reconvene to consider the wetlands issue.

A motion to that effect failed, however, failed, with the votes of commissioners Hagan, Murman, Higginbotham and Crist. 

The RaceTrac development is bitterly opposed by a group of community activists, who periodically have been sporting "Deny 12-0263" signs in protest of the project in front of the wetlands they are determined to protect.

"Deny 12-0263" refers to the RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. application number.

They take issue with Marchetti's move to "splinter" the rulings necessary to move this project forward. Also, that the commissioners are revisiting a 2002 agreement that allowed for the development of the 55-acre spot at the corner of Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road — but minus the 2.5 acres of wetlands now in question again.

The property owners and developers "got something that they wouldn't have otherwise been able to get without an approval saying they couldn't impact the wetlands," said Terry Flott, of the United Citizens Action Network, after the April 9 land-use hearing. "Now, that's being revisited. There's cases waiting to see how this turns out. It really is a countywide issue. It changes the way we protect our wetlands."

Activist Edith Stewart, a retired county employee, said as much at the corner April 5, where activists held signs in protest of the RaceTrac development.

"This is bigger than this piece of property," she said at the time. "I see it as a litmus test of the wetlands rule. If this corner goes, the next corner goes and all the wetlands will follow."

  • See Activists Rally Against Gas Station in Wetlands

Dennis Carlton spoke in favor the RaceTrac development, identifying himself as an equity partner in a deal involving also Bob McLane, then chair of the board of the Valrico Bank. McCullough and Scott closed on the executive park. "We kept the corner, which we considered the crown jewel," Carlton said. "I would ask that you approve this and I'm thankful that the zoning hearing master was as forceful as he was in his recommendation."

Steve Griffin spoke about the finding of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, which found the development inconsistent with the county's comprehensive plan. While the project does "meet criteria for consideration of commercial uses," it falls short on environmental concerns, including those noted in the Brandon Community Plan.

Marchetti at the April 9 hearing stressed that the property met locational criteria for zoning, including that the project does not abut residential land uses, that it is an ideal residential-to-commercial transition and that the neighbors most directly affected are in agreement with the RaceTrac proposal.

Indeed, Sue Luther, vice president of  the adjacent Lumsden Executive Park, said all 18 building owners, and "several more tenants," are in support of the project because it will bring much-needed security to the area.

"We do have a lot of vagrancy issues in that area," she said, adding that the protection that comes with RaceTrac's 24-hour operation, 17 security cameras and "numerous lights" will be greatly appreciated.

"Second is the visibility. It's very hard to see us. It's a big corner of nothing. Having the visibility of the RaceTrac [development]" will aid the office park as well, she said.

Opposed was Pamela Jo Hatley, of the Oak Park Homeowners Association, who called the process "procedurally muddled" and the proposed development not consistent with the comprehensive plan.

"Development should not be promoted, and in fact discouraged, in wetlands," she said.

John Knightly works for the Advanced Petroleum and Energy Company (APEC). He represents Mobil in APEC locally. He said Mobil at one time wanted to put a station where RaceTrac wants to build but backed off when it was determined the land was a wetlands conservation area. Subsequently, the land was bought across the street, where a Mobil station stands today.

A RaceTrac representative at the April 9 hearing said the company "is a third generation family owned business" and that it will fill 40 jobs locally and represent a more than $5 million "instant economic impact to the community."

Noted Knightly: "Whatever jobs you're going to gain, you're going to lose at mom-and-pop operations."

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RELATED COVERAGE:

  • Activists Rally Against Gas Station in Wetlands
  • Wetlands Rule Ignored To Allow Gas Station's Development
  • Potential RaceTrac at Kings Avenue and Lumsden Road Debated

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Jen Frost April 10, 2013 at 01:38 PM
The Land Development Code dictates how the Board needs to vote. Whether the petition should have made it this far with the prior development restrictions that the wetlands be preserved is another issue in itself. While they probably made the "correct" decision according the the LDC, I hope they think really long and hard before approving destruction of conservation to increase traffic and pollution.
George April 10, 2013 at 05:36 PM
The commission plays the same game whenever it comes to land development. Development always trumps environmental, traffic and/or quality of life concerns. Commissioner Murman used the usual misleading ploy about generating new revenue as a justification. She misleads by saying, "...increasing our property tax bill from $300 to $100,000 a year". The increase she refers to is sales tax revenue, however, if the new gas station generates sales tax revenue, other existing gas stations nearby will have reduced sales tax revenue because the new station will be taking revenue from already established gas stations. You can put in another 100 gas stations but adding to the number of retailers will have no effect on the amount of gas purchased. So it is not the windfall they say it is, and certainly not worth destroying a wetland.
Sophia April 10, 2013 at 09:06 PM
Marchetti’s manipulation to obtain zoning approval without considering the wetlands issue is obvious. Rezoning the 2.5 acres for development separates it from the entire parcel previously agreed to for preservation, essentially subjecting only that portion for wetlands impact consideration (this was evidenced by Comm. Sandra Murman’s comments about the irrationality of preserving a small 3% of wetlands at the cost of potential county revenues and a few jobs), and effectively breaking the previous agreement in the process. The agreement in 2002 appealed to the County to waive the restrictions for a portion of the wetlands, which was not in compliance with the LDC, to allow for partial development in return for preserving the balance of the wetlands and preclude any further development. With the integrity of this agreement in jeopardy, one should consider that if this development is approved, will they come back for more? If we continue on this path, what will our community look like in the future? At the rate we are now going, we are “paving” our way to a legacy as just another stretch of bad development, with disconnected roadways, unbearable traffic conditions, compromised drainage systems, too many GAS STATIONS, and not enough green space for children to connect with nature. Is this an acceptable result for our East Hillsborough community?
Bev April 10, 2013 at 11:12 PM
Once the feeding frenzy to build mega gas stations with convenience stores maxes out and over saturates the market, we’re sure to see their closures and will be left with polluted properties and urban blight
Swathslayer April 11, 2013 at 01:37 AM
This property was granted an excemption to the "locational criteria" back in the early 2000"s in order to develop the southern portion (which would not have been allowed), and preserve the wetlands on the northern portion. So now that they have developed the southern portion, they are coming back and asking to develop in the preservation area. Commissioners - really, man/woman up here. Stand by what was granted and what was preserved. Stop running and hiding and whining about Ole Vin threatening to sue. The treat of law suits is what causes all of our insurance costs to be extraordinary high in this state, and what causes everyone to roll over and give in on things that we should be standing up for or against. Oh, and by the way, folks are going to buy the same amount of gas no matter where it is purchased. That means that the same amount of taxes will be coming in, and the same amount of low wage employees will be hired whether or not this gas station goes in. And, as for claiming that it is an upscale gas station - if you really want to be an upscale gas station, have someone come out and pump my gas for me. That would be upscale.
Terry April 11, 2013 at 04:38 AM
The BOCC or the majority of the BOCC thought not enough in the code to allow them to say "no" and deny this application. This is laughable since this case has 8 minutes of worth of citation of code given by Pamela Jo Hatley that would allow denial of this application based on our land development codes. Conversely, Marchetti cited the creation of 40 jobs with not evidence and creation of jobs isn't something that can be consider - or at least it's not noted as an item of consideration in the code. Marchetti has been allowed to manipulate the system, direct and control the county attorney and while utilizing them to present the history of the case so as Mr. Marchetti stated.....so I didn't have to use up any of his precious time. He has misled the commissioners and has memory of the facts are not accurate. Such as stating that in 1995 entitlements were given to this property for what he is asking for. That's patently false. While the prior owners sought a rezoning in 1995 it was withdrawn so it never went the entitlement process. Simply filing an application doesn't give one entitlements. Another instance is saying that EPC staff changed their report three times - well they changed and added statements at Marchetti's request. I guess some win and lose cases on the merits of the facts and some have to resort to mistruths and misrepresentations. All the confusion surrounding this case was created by the applicants' attorney with help the Cty Atty's ofc.
Sophia April 11, 2013 at 10:44 PM
What does 1995 have to do with anything? Doesn't the 2002 agreement negate whatever happened before then? The question is how many entitlements will they claim should they succeed in developing that corner - they received a waiver in 2002, and, guess what, they're baaaaack! It is time the BOCC stopped ignoring the facts, the rules, and the citizens who are forced to live with the mess resulting from the free passes they hand out time and again. We who live in this area are the ones who should have entitlement to say when enough is enough, much less have our tax dollars pay the County attorney's salary to help Marchetti defeat what we want for our community.
Sophia April 11, 2013 at 11:34 PM
It's not just about gas stations - there are at least 11 in a 3 mile circumference. If it were, there are other existing properties they can use, such the corner of Kings and Oakfield, vacated by Lifestyle fitness, which is already paved. It's about unloading property unsuitable for development, with the help of our own County attorney and elected officials.

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