Sep 272017

An early rendering of the facade of the two-story expansion of the University Shell on South Claiborne Avenue. (image by Professional Designs Group)

The plan to expand the University Shell gas station on South Claiborne Avenue received a positive recommendation from the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, sending it on to the City Council for a final decision over neighbors’ requests for more time to consider the proposal.

The existing service station is in a building of about 3,100 square feet with a small convenience store inside and auto-repair bays and a car wash adjacent to it. The expansion would add nearly another 1,900 square feet to the rear of the building, bringing the total floor area to just over 5,000 square feet, eliminating the repair shop but expanding the car wash and convenience store, as well as adding the sale of packaged liquor, the docket says.

The owners had previously closed their other Shell station at the corner of Magazine and State streets at the end of last year, and met with neighbors in the university area about their plans for the South Claiborne shop in January.

The City Planning Staff had recommended in favor of the plan, saying that the expansion would not affect the nearby neighborhood and the alcohol sales could be managed properly.

At a meeting of the City Planning Commission on Tuesday, however, attorney Jeffrey Good requested that a decision be postponed for two weeks. He said the renovations to the gas station are welcome, but neighbors felt they were not properly notified of the plans.

“The traffic is a major concern,” Good told commissioners. “We believe the effect will be basically four times the traffic flow out of the gas station.”

A handful of other neighbors said they were concerned that alcohol sales could increase loitering around the business, spilling over into the houses on State Street Drive that abut the property.

James Phelps, a representative of the gas station’s owner, said the business will direct its staff to stop any loitering. The expansion and addition of alcohol sales, however, is necessary to keep the shop competitive, he said.

“This gas station continually has had decline in revenue sources,” Phelps said. “By expanding the gas station convenience store and allowing the retail sales of packaged alcoholic beverages, this mom-and-pop shop which has been around for more than 25 years has a chance to continue that legacy and move forward to serve the neighborhood better.”

Commissioner Robert Steeg — who noted that he frequents the station for gas — made a motion to defer the matter for about four weeks per the neighbors’ request, but the commission split on that suggestion by a 3-3 vote. Commissioner Eugene Green then suggested a vote in favor of allowing the expansion.

“I understand the concerns of residents, but this is a gas station with its own entrances and exits,” Green said. “The sale of alcoholic beverages in packages does not mean there is going to be increased loitering and increased criminal activity.”

Commissioner Robert Steeg asked that the store be required to close at 10 p.m., but that suggestion initially drew criticism because the Circle K in the same shopping center is allowed to be open 24 hours even though it doesn’t sell gas. The owners said they were fine with closing at 10 p.m., however, and the commissioners voted 6-0 to allow the expansion with the restriction on the hours in place.

The commission’s recommendation will be forwarded to the City Council for a final decision.

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