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Developer, residents gearing up for final fight over gas station

POSTED: May 17, 2008 5:00 a.m.

In what may be the final round between an Atlanta developer and the residents from a community for those 55 and older, the Gainesville City Council is set to decide if it is appropriate to allow a RaceTrac gas station on the edge of a neighborhood that originally barred all auto-related businesses.

The residents of that neighborhood, Seasons on Lanier, say definitely not; a gas station was not their idea of how the "commercial-retail" space of their upscale development would turn out when they bought their homes.

The developers acquiring the bankrupt development in court contend the gas station is the only option they have, and say that if approved, the RaceTrac will be on the fast track — they plan to hand the property over within 30 days of approval.

But a representative of the company promises that even though it’s a gas station, the RaceTrac he is proposing is not an average convenience store.

"I feel like we have gone out of the way to do something attractive," said Jesse Shannon, a representative of developer Easlan Capital of Atlanta Inc.

Wes Robinson, the lawyer representing Easlan in the company’s request to amend the planned unit development zoning for 10 acres of the Seasons On Lanier property, says Easlan may no longer be interested in acquiring the bankrupt property if the city does not allow a RaceTrac gas station at McEver and Browns Bridge roads.

A different developer may not give the Seasons’ residents as much opportunity for input as Easlan has afforded them, Shannon told the residents at an April 24 meeting between the two.

"At least with us, there’s certainty," Shannon said.

But the 24-hour, multipump gas station is not what the residents of the community had in mind when they purchased property from Seasons’ original developer, the now-bankrupt Levitt & Sons.

"We would just like to have a calm, quiet neighborhood," president of the Seasons on Lanier homeowners’ association, John Snyder told Shannon on April 24. "What you’re proposing is not that."

Seasons residents are concerned the gas station could generate more traffic around what they say is already a traffic-plagued community. But a representative for RaceTrac says the gas station would just serve the existing traffic.

"We’re not generating traffic," said Todd Duplantis, engineering senior project manager for RaceTrac corporate. "It’s already going to be there."

Duplantis said, if approved, Seasons residents will hardly notice the existence of a RaceTrac. He promised to control the spill lighting, and says there is a natural buffer between the store and the neighborhood that will mitigate possible noise pollution.

Site plans for the station include a brick building design and a pitched roof over the gas pump canopy.

"We’ve definitely made an effort to make sure it was a beautiful canopy," Duplantis said.

Last month, when Easlan’s request came before the council, Easlan asked if the council would wait to vote on the zoning request until this month’s meeting. Holding off on the vote afforded the developers more time to negotiate with residents — a meeting Seasons residents had initially refused.

However, at the end of that April 24 meeting, most Seasons residents said they had not changed their minds about keeping a gas station off of their planned unit development, and the meeting was "letting Easlan have their day," Snyder said.

The council has the final say on zoning amendments, and Councilman George Wangemann said the developers may ask for another continuance at tonight’s meeting.

"My perception is that the developer is still somewhat hopeful that they can continue to work with the neighborhood and come to some sort of an agreement," Wangemann said.

Wangemann, who represents the area of the city where Seasons residents live, says if the vote does occur, he is inclined to vote with his constituents. Wangemann said he thinks the residents of Seasons on Lanier will be present at the meeting, still adamantly opposing a RaceTrac.

Wangemann said he had not spoken with other council members about their feelings on the rezoning, but it would not matter if he did.

"I tend to go with numbers, especially when those numbers are my constituents," Wangemann said. "If we have larger numbers come out who are opposed to this ... I’m prone to vote with my constituents on that."


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