Service station plan is debated

Public hearing set for today on proposal for Waverly Woods

November 07, 2007|By June Arney | June Arney,sun reporter

A gas station proposed for Waverly Woods is the lesser of two evils in a contest with a possible fast-food restaurant, some residents and business operators believe.

Others welcome the service station proposed for Waverly Woods Village Center shopping center by Convenience Retailing LLC as a way to draw new customers and to eliminate a roughly five-mile drive to get gas.

"It is definitely better than a fast-food restaurant," said H.J. Pflueger, who lives in Waverly Woods, about six blocks from the service station proposed for the intersection of Warwick Way and Birmingham Way. "Then people come, they eat and they throw it around. The more traffic, the more litter comes with it."

The Department of Planning and Zoning has recommended approval of rezoning to allow the gas station and has set a public hearing for 6:30 p.m. today in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive, in Ellicott City.

Current zoning allows a standard restaurant on the site, but a fast-food restaurant would require a conditional use permit, according to county zoning officials.

Convenience Retailing has been working on the Waverly Woods gas station project for more than two years, according to co-owner Rick Levitan, whose company has gas stations in Dorsey Hall, Owing Brown and Pikesville.

The company has proposed a $2.5 million project to include a gas station that does minor auto repairs, a car wash and a small snack shop on about an acre at the edge of the shopping center.

"We've said there's been significant change in the density that warrants the zoning change," said Levitan, who estimated that more than 3,000 people live in a three-mile radius. "If this gas station does not get built, I believe the highest and best use is going to be fast food. The community does not want a fast-food restaurant on that parcel."

Levitan's company has agreed to do all auto repairs with the service doors down to eliminate noise and not to sell diesel fuel, so that trucks would not be encouraged to come into the area.

Residents in the East neighborhood, a 55-and-older community, are largely opposed to the project because of concerns over pollution and increased crime, said Troy Painter, community manager for the Waverly Woods Homeowners Association. Sentiment is more evenly divided among townhouse and single-family residents, he said.

"A sit-down, blue-collar restaurant would be the first choice," Painter said. "That's what it was initially zoned for."

Richard Brunatti, owner of the nearby Your Wine & Spirit Shoppe, is opposed to the gas station because it would compete with his cigarette sales, even though they represent only about 2 percent of his business.

"All gas stations, when they come in, low-ball their cigarette prices," he said. "They get special rates. It is going to help bring traffic, which is going to help the shopping center, but is it going to be too much traffic? Your business would get to a peak, and then people would say, `I'm not going to that shopping center, because it's a nightmare.'"

Still, he understands the need for a closer gas station.

"You'd be surprised how many people come in here and say, "Where's the nearest gas station?"

Phyllis Greenbaum, who purchased the Classic Cup Cafe with a business partner in September, worries about how much a gas station with a snack shop would eat into sales at the cafe and other businesses in the shopping center.

"I'm sure they'll sell coffee and maybe bagels," she said. "They'll compete with Weis and with us. There are a lot of new people moving in, and they may not even get to know the small businesses if all they know is the convenience store."

She is not convinced that the gas station would generate enough new business to compensate for the toll on existing businesses. But it could be worse.

"At least you know your enemy with a gas station," she said. "I certainly wouldn't want to see a Starbucks there. A Starbucks or a Dunkin' Donuts would be devastating for us."

Russell Preisinger, co-owner of Mangia, an Italian Grill & Sports Cafe, who lives nearby, is very familiar with the 10-minute morning trip to get gas during rush hour.

"I think a gas station would draw more business and help the small-business owners," Preisinger said. "We're still off the beaten path, so we need some help getting additional business in here. Any help we can get with traffic, I'm for it."

A gas station makes far more sense than a fast-food restaurant, said his partner, Herb Bryant.

"There's four places to get food here but no place to get gas," he said.

Bob Bond, owner of Waverly Frame & Art Gallery, said he supports rezoning that would allow the gas station because the developer has done a good job with similar projects elsewhere.

"Done properly and well hidden, I don't have a problem with it at all," he said.

Residents and business owners alike have resigned themselves to development coming, so they just need to make sure it's a type they can live with.

"Something's going to go in there," Pflueger said. "That's the way I see it, even if I say 10 times no."

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