Homeowners packed the seats, and left standing-room only in Ocean View Town Hall last Wednesday, May 7, during the monthly town council meeting, as the town hosted the first of two public hearings for an ordinance that could allow a new gas station along Route 26. Newly-elected Mayor Gordon Wood regulated the hearing, allowing residents to share their concerns, both in favor and against the project.
The conditional-use request was originally presented to the sitting town council in January, and they redirected it to Planning and Zoning, which held a hearing on the application in February.
The commission then requested additional information from the applicants, deferring a decision until April, when they referred the ordinance back to council on a failed 2-0 opposing vote after a controversial second meeting on the topic at which the public was not permitted to speak, due to the closing of the public record in February.
The parcel of land, just over 4 acres in size, is located beside the Royal Zephyr restaurant along Atlantic Avenue, across from the Savannah’s Landing community. The request proposes three retail/office structures to be built on the land, including a convenience store equipped with eight gas pumps. Gas pumps are currently not permitted within the town code, and therefore require a conditional-use approval from the council.
Newly elected Councilman Perry Mitchell abstained from further discussion and consideration of the application, due to his involvement with the proposal when it was brought before the Panning and Zoning board, where he cast one of the two opposing votes in April before resigning his seat to join the council.
John Zorzit, president of Norino Companies and owner of the lot, addressed the council with the parcel’s history and his stance on the project.
“I felt it was time to do something with this parcel. Instead of requesting a major gas station, which I was sure the town didn’t want, we’ve scaled the project down,” he explained. He also mentioned that the lot was previously denied approval for a residential community to be constructed years back.
Zorzit presented a petition of roughly 100 signatures in favor of the pumps. At the meeting with Planning and Zoning, Commissioner Carol Goodhand had requested an increase in the number of handicapped parking spaces within the center, and as Zorzit explained, he had complied.
“It was a legitimate request, and we fulfilled it. I thought this [project] would be a good compromise with what the town wanted,” he stated. “It would help promote revenue for the town, and benefit the people. We’re willing to work with anybody and everybody.”
Zorzit was again accompanied by Bret Martine, representing Century Engineering. Martine mentioned that they are attempting to incorporate “green” technology into the project, as well.
Three 10,000-gallon storage tanks are proposed to be integrated into the construction, if approved, too, accommodating different fuel types.
When Wood polled the audience prior to the public hearing to get a feel for time that should be allotted for each speaker, approximately seven people raised their hands, indicating a desire to speak in favor of the project, while close to 20 expressed their wishing to speak against it.
“The main reason we need a gas station here is for convenience,” said resident Nan Colella. “It will help me by saving energy, and it’s a matter of competition. No one travels into Ocean View to buy gas. I think this will level the playing field.”
Resident Susan White said she supported the development of the gas station only if certain conditions are required by the council. She expressed her wish for the consideration of a traffic light outside the shopping center that would help alleviate summertime traffic, and deliberation of a local gas tax to help generate revenue for the town.
Former Ocean View Council Member Norman Amendt also spoke in support.
“I really don’t see what all the fuss is about this gas station,” he said. “I’m self-employed. I cut grass and do maintenance in the town of Ocean View. I just can’t see why people wouldn’t want to bring more revenue, more business and more jobs to Ocean View.”
The majority of those who spoke in opposition of the pumps were residents of Savannah’s Landing, citing traffic congestion as a primary concern.
Jim Tanis, president of the homeowner’s association of Savannah’s Landing, presented his side.
“If there was ever a tale of David versus Goliath,” he said, “it’s happening right now, right here in Ocean View. Everyone understands this land is zoned for commercial. It’s the gas pumps we’re against. You, the council, must make a decision on merit, not on winning a popularity contest.”
He cited the town code, reiterating that Ocean View businesses should benefit the citizens of the town and not increase traffic on Route 26.
“Do any of you believe that DelDOT approved this plan based on a traffic study, or did they just approve the entranceway [to deter traffic] from this property to another failed road in Delaware?” he asked.
Lene Kuhblank of Osprey Lane in Ocean View explained that the development will have substantial impact on her community, as well, as it is located adjacent to the lot. Lights and noise pollution were some of her concerns.
Mr. Messina, a homeowner within Savannah’s Landing, stated, “The housing boom right now is at a slump. When this starts back up again, we’re going to have more traffic on Route 26 than we can handle. We have a lot of people scratching their heads right now, saying, ‘What are we going to do about Route 26?’
“These gentlemen are multi-billionaires who want to make more money on top of more money on top of more money,” he said. “I feel as though that we don’t need a gas station. I’m satisfied without it, and if they put another traffic light there — three traffic lights within a half-mile — it’s going to pose a lot of problems for the people of Savannah’s Landing.”
The public will again be allowed to speak at second public hearing before the council meeting on June 10 at 7 p.m. at the town hall, which will see the second reading of the ordinance that would, if approved, permit the gas pumps.
Councilman Roy Thomas and Wood both presented the developers with requests for the project and a list of detailed information that they would like to know at the upcoming meeting, including written approvals from various entities and organizations.