The fight over a new gas station on Bay Ridge Road should have been settled at Tuesday night's Board of Appeals meeting, but both sides will instead have to wait until later this month to learn the final fate of the proposal.
In a meeting that lasted four hours, the Board of Appeals simply ran out of time, said Chairman Christian Elkington. Since it was already past 11 p.m. before final deliberations began, Elkington said the board was required to wait until their next meeting to take a vote.
The proposed gas station, which would be owned and operated by the Bay Ridge Giant supermarket, would sit adjacent to the Wachovia Bank in the Bay Forest Shopping Center. The gas station would reward those who shop at Giant supermarkets by providing discounts on gasoline purchases.
The developers of the gas station are seeking a special exception permit, which was recommended earlier this year by the Planning Commission. The Board of Appeals has final say on the matter.
Giant's parent company, Stop and Shop Supermarket LLC, was represented by Alan Hyatt of Hyatt and Weber at the hearing. Hyatt said he wasn't surprised by the citizen opposition, citing the simple fact that gas stations just aren't popular.
“Gas sales aren't popular, and often citizens rally against them like you'll see tonight,” Hyatt said.
But in terms of addressing the merits of the project, Hyatt argued for the special exception, dismissing any concerns of increased traffic.
“This is not an extreme generator of traffic,” he said.
But citizens opposed to the gas station countered that rewards-based gas stations are a new phenomenon that the city isn't fully taking into consideration.
“It's a unique situation, and I don't think this has been looked at appropriately,” said David Iams, president of the Board of Directors at Fairwinds Condominiums, which sit adjacent to the Bay Forest Shopping Center.
A traffic study completed by the developers determined that the gas station would minimally increase traffic in the area. However, the study used trip generation numbers from the Institute of Transportation Engineers, which only provides numbers for stand-alone gas stations, not rewards-based stations that are part of a supermarket. A secondary study was conducted by the Annapolis Department of Transportation.
Opponents said a rewards-based station could bring even more car traffic to an already congested peninsula.
But concerned residents weren't the only ones to speak out during the public hearing on Tuesday night.
Bilal Iftikhar, who owns the Shell gas station less than two blocks away from the proposed site, said that another gas station on the peninsula, especially one backed by a large supermarket chain, would put him out of business.
“This is a three-mile radius and there are already six gas stations,” said Iftikhar after the hearing. “One more gas station at the Giant will kill our business.”
A further sticking point for residents testifying at the hearing was a stipulation in the special exception permit requirements stating that a proposed project must not “be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, convenience or general welfare” of citizens.
“We're here because this will affect our quality of life,” said Thom Lamm, president of the Board of Directors at Mariner's Point Community. “There's too much traffic on Forest Drive already, and this will do nothing but add more.”
But after testimony from developers, citizens, and business owners, the room was eventually dominated by two lawyers on opposite sides of the battle, who were sitting right next to each other.
Thomas Deming, who represents the opponents of the gas station, cited a portion of Annapolis City Code, which stipulates that a traffic study must be completed by an independent consulting firm when a new development is expected to generate 400 or more daily trips, a category the proposed gas station falls under.
Hyatt, the developer's lawyer, said a traffic study had already been completed. But the study was complied by Iain Banks, a personal transportation and parking specialist with the Annapolis Department of Transportation, not by an outside firm.
Deming also cited the need for special exceptions to be consistent with the Annapolis Comprehensive Plan (ACP), a policy document adopted in 2009. Deming said the current applicant's special exception runs counter to the goals of the ACP.
“Not only can the comprehensive plan be taken into account, it must be,” said Deming.
Just as testimony was finishing up shortly after 11 p.m., residents in the audience were preparing for a vote on the matter. But Elkington announced that since the hearing had already ran past 11 p.m., there wouldn't be enough time for deliberations and a vote, leaving the fate of the proposal up in the air until April 20, when the board meets again.
Perhaps foreshadowing the vote that awaits the Board of Appeals, during his public testimony, Chairman David DiQuinzio of the Planning Commission, which approved the special exception earlier this year, said this application was one of the toughest to ever come across his desk.
“This stands out as one of the most difficult issues that came before us,” said DiQuinzio. “We think there are a host of concerns.”
The Board of Appeals is expected to vote on the matter at their meeting on April 20 at 7 p.m. The Board meets in the City Council chambers at 160 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis, MD.