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City council defeats fueling station for now

POSTED: May 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

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When a RaceTrac gas station on the Seasons on Lanier property seemed like nearly a done deal, Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann came up with a strategy to defeat the controversial rezoning on its second reading.

A tie vote at Tuesday’s City Council meeting means plans for the fuel station are out of gas — for at least six months.

If Easlan Capital of Atlanta wants to continue with a gas station on the corner of McEver Road and Browns Bridge Road, the developing company will have to restart the rezoning process with an application to the zoning department in six months.

Councilman Danny Dunagan’s absence from Tuesday morning’s council meeting ended in three tie votes on one controversial rezoning issue: the question as to whether the incoming developers of the bankrupt Seasons On Lanier development could rezone the planned unit development in order to build a RaceTrac gas station on the edge of the property.

Two weeks ago, three members of the council — Dunagan, Ruth Bruner and Mayor Myrtle Figueras — voted to approve the rezoning request only minutes after nearly 60 residents stood in opposition to the proposed gas station as they had done before at the preceding Planning and Appeals Board meeting.

After two motions — one to table the discussion by Councilwoman Ruth Bruner and another to keep the rezoning from having a second reading at all by Councilman Bob Hamrick — died with tie votes, Councilman George Wangemann asked the City Attorney James E. "Bubba" Palmour what would happen if Wangemann made a motion to approve the rezoning request and it ended in a tie vote.

Palmour replied "the motion would fail."

Wangemann then asked if he could make a motion to approve, but then vote in opposition to the motion, to which City Manager Bryan Shuler replied "you can do whatever you want."

Palmour said he did not think it was against the city’s code.

"I haven’t found anything in our charter or code that would say no; that’s the only response I could give," Palmour said. "I don’t know that we’re obliged to follow any state or rules of order, so I guess he could vote any way he wants to."

Wangemann, who had voted against the initial rezoning earlier in the month, then made a motion to approve the rezoning with a smile on his face.

After learning that he could second the motion to approve, but vote otherwise, Hamrick seconded Wangemann’s motion to approve the rezoning.

Bruner and Figueras voted to approve the rezoning, but Hamrick and Wangemann did not. The vote kept Easlan Capital of Atlanta from building a RaceTrac for now, but it may keep Easlan Capital from acquiring the property at all.

Earlier in the rezoning process, Wes Robinson, a Gainesville attorney representing the developers, said Easlan Capital would no longer be interested in the property if the rezoning request was not granted.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Robinson said he did not know if the council’s actions were legal or if Easlan would pull out of the development without an approval.

"We’ll just have to wait and see," he said without further comment.

Lawyers for the Georgia Municipal Association said Wangemann’s political maneuver seems perfectly legal, however.

"As far as we’re aware there are no legal prohibitions against that," GMA spokesperson Amy Henderson said.

Todd Duplantis, a representative for RaceTrac, also refused comment on the council’s Tuesday decision, and Jesse Shannon with Easlan Capital did not return phone calls from The Times Tuesday.

As for the residents of Seasons on Lanier, the president of the neighborhood’s homeowner’s association said he was happy that the council considered the neighborhood’s desires. When the majority of the City Council voted to approve the rezoning request earlier in the month, John Snyder, president of the Seasons on Lanier homeowner’s association, said council members were not functioning democratically and acting on the desires of the people. But he said residents never gave up hope that something could change on the second reading, a vote that is normally a "rubber stamp" of approval.

Snyder is not worried that Easlan’s denial may make the developers pull out of Seasons altogether. In fact, he said he has a good reason to believe there are others interested in taking over the property that Levitt & Sons, the original developers, left in limbo when they filed Chapter 11 in November.

"I think we all feel vindicated," Snyder said after Tuesday’s turn of events.



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