Gas station, retail center plan nets concerns, deferral

After deliberation by both the Ocean View Planning and Zoning Commission and representatives from Savannah’s Landing, who gave their input to the commission, a 2-1 vote was cast Feb. 21 to defer action on a proposed shopping center, including a gas station, within town limits.

The project, aimed at lots at 21-23 Atlantic Avenue, calls for the construction of three commercial buildings, including a one-story, 6,720-square-foot retail building, a two-floor, 5,200-square-foot office building and a one-story, 2,880-square-foot convenience store with fueling capabilities. It would stand beside The Royal Zephyr restaurant and Wild About Birds. The entrance to the proposed shopping center is located almost directly across from Ocean View community Savannah’s Landing.

Gasoline fuel pumps are currently not allowed within town limits, according to the town code. That forced applicant Bret A. Martine, an employee of Dover-based Century Engineering and project manager, to present his request for approval of the project to the board.

Martine was accompanied Feb. 21 by John Zorzit, president of Norino Companies and owner of the 4.07-acre lot. The proposal was pitched to the Ocean View Town Council in January as a conditional use before it was referred to the Planning and Zoning board.

Members of the board came prepared to discuss concerns and issues that they felt would accompany the construction of a gas station within the town. The project would be the first of its kind that the applicant would work on.

The larger retail store would sit at the front of the property, along Atlantic Avenue, with the office building near the northeast corner of the lot and the convenience store and gas pumps in the northwest area of the land. The office building, Martine noted, could accommodate a multitude of businesses and the retail store in the front would likely be divided into several businesses, if approved.

“We made the decision to place the fueling station and convenience store to the back of the lot to gain a natural buffer and avoid light and noise pollution,” said Martine. “We feel that this development will greatly benefit the area, seeing as the nearest gas stations are one mile east, in Bethany, or 2.5 miles west, at Hocker’s.”

Fuel tanks — either 10,000 or 20,000 gallons in size, depending on the developer and their recommendations — would sit at either end of the bays. The plan calls for eight pumps, each servicing one vehicle at a time.

Due to lack of personal experience constructing gas stations, Martine emphasized that, if approved, developers would be contracted to complete the project, while his role remained more along the lines of finances and supervision. Martine added that he and Zorzit had previously spoken with representatives from Royal Farms, which operates numerous convenience store/gas station operations in the region and who Martine said considered the land as an adequate area for expansion.

Questions were raised at last Thursday’s meeting in regards to the project — particularly, the gas station. Commissioner Perry Mitchell questioned Martine’s proposal, stressing his concern with potential contamination of the environment and the community’s safety. He shared accounts of gasoline spills at stations across the country, some as close as Maryland.

“You need to know what to do if the soil becomes contaminated and the gas makes its way into our water,” he said. “There’s a well right up the road that many businesses use.”

Holding ponds, which would be designed to confine hazardous chemicals that might run off from the station and would be situated in areas around the convenient store and parking lot, can become threatened with heavy rains and storms, posing another threat, Mitchell said.

Commissioner Carol Goodhand also had a few issues with the installation of a gas station in Ocean View.

“If you’re going to have 24-hour pumps,” she said, “you’re looking at lighting, and that’s not something you want to have around residential areas.”

Martine said that, if the project is approved, the hours of operation for the pump are something that the council could request and mandate. Martine added that a time later in the day could be arranged for deliveries of fuel to the station via tankers.

Other concerns Goodhand mentioned included accessibility, from curb height to handicapped parking spaces.

“There are far too few handicapped parking spaces anywhere you go around here,” she said. “I’d like to see a few more in this plan as well.”

As presented the plan called for two designated handicapped parking spaces for each of the three proposed buildings, although Martine said he’d look into designating more if that was the commission’s consensus.

Goodhand suggested that, if the project is approved, the board consider working with Martine to discuss the installation of a traffic light to help lessen traffic congestion along the Atlantic Avenue corridor. The Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) does not currently require one to be installed at that intersection, but it is something that Martine said he’d consider to help alleviate the ever-growing traffic.

“Our winters are not what they used to be,” said Goodhand. “We still look like we’re in summer mode when looking at traffic on Route 26. When you start adding more commercial property to this area, it’s just going to make matters worse.”

Goodhand also voiced her foreboding with respect to the environment.

“I don’t want to see a lot of these trees removed,” she stated, inspecting the design plan. Martine assured her that all precautions would be taken to conserve all the now-standing trees and shrubbery.

Environmental impact, Route 26 traffic and compliance with the town code were all among the top concerns of representatives from Savannah’s Landing. Jim Tanis, president of the homeowner’s association, was one of the numerous town residents speaking in opposition to the request.

“Route 26 cannot handle any additional traffic,” he said. “I know it. DelDOT knows it. And the town council knows it.”

“Why do you think a gas station is essential and desirable for Ocean View, in light of the fact that with the new comprehensive plan, no one felt a gas station was needed here?” Logue asked Martine. He then cited the town code.

“‘The business district is intended to consist primarily of neighborhood service and retail establishments to serve Ocean View residents … and not increase vehicular traffic.’ We’re dealing with the issue of Route 26, and we’re dealing with meeting the needs of Ocean View. There are 1,100 of us. This project is a major facility. I don’t see how it’s promoting a service to just the people of the town,” Logue said.

Citing no clear evidence of any conceptual approvals for the project by other entities, Logue — with recommended wording from Town Solicitor Dennis Schrader — stated that little could be voted on by the commission at their Feb. 21 meeting. As a result, he made the motion that Martine return to the commission next month, after submitting required, necessary approvals from other entities involved — including a letter of no objection from DelDOT.

“I think a little more homework needs to be done,” said Mitchell. “I’m not extremely impressed by most of the answers I heard today.”

Martine is expected to return at Ocean View’s next Planning and Zoning meeting, set for March 28 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.