TAMPA — In light of seven convenience store holdups in Gulfport and St. Petersburg since Oct. 19, northwest Hillsborough homeowners packed County Center on Tuesday night and railed against a proposal to build one next to their neighborhood.
RaceTrac wants to build a nearly 5,000-square-foot convenience store with 18 gas pumps on the northwest corner of Ehrlich and Bellamy roads. It wants the county to rezone the 3.68-acre site, which is currently designated for agricultural, single-family use and sits next to approximately 1,100 homes and a church.
While several agencies support the plan, county planners and the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission do not.
Among other concerns cited are no other commercial uses in the largely residential area, noise and traffic, and the site intruding on wetlands.
Nearby homeowners and members of Hillsdale Baptist Church have many of the same fears. Before Tuesday's zoning hearing, more than 180 families associated with the church submitted petitions against the plan.
In a Jan. 27 meeting between RaceTrac and the church, Pastor Travis Smith said, company representatives informed him and others that they planned to apply for a license to sell alcohol.
That worries the church and residents who fear the gas station will lure criminals and vagrants.
"Not enough profit can be generated in order to make a gas station successful based on gas sales alone," said homeowner Jim Anderson, speaking on behalf of 2,400 neighbors who live in communities near Bellamy Road. "What RaceTrac is really proposing to build … is a package liquor store that sells gas."
RaceTrac has modified the proposal to address objections, including a more aesthetically pleasing stone and stucco facade. The store would create 20 to 30 new jobs and "provide substantial tax revenue to Hillsborough County," said Consuella Ragin of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.
However, those assurances did not assuage community concern.
"Would everybody who is opposed to this request please stand," asked homeowner Michelle Sullivan. People on every row rose from their seats.
The hearing officer will make a recommendation to county commissioners within 15 working days.