About fifteen Keystone residents went before the zoning hearing master to protest the convenience store planned for Gunn Highway and Race Track Road.
The developers of a 7-Eleven proposed at Gunn Highway and Race Track Road say they went out of their way to come up with a design that would blend in with the community's rural landscape.
Instead of the bright stripes typically painted on the side of the gasoline canopy, they went with none at all. Instead of a sign on a tall pole, they decided on a shorter, monument sign. Not to mention all the extras, they say, such as a split-rail fence, horse hitches and lap siding.
But in the end, those modifications didn't fly.
At Monday's zoning hearing, about 15 Keystone residents dressed in red to show solidarity and went before hearing master Martin Smith to reject Southland Corp.'s proposal to use the 1.3 acres for a convenience store with gas pumps.
"Clearly, this community is committed to preserving its rural identity and will fight to preserve that identity," said Laura Swain, a Keystone activist and former planning commissioner.
Consultants for Southland met with residents twice before Monday's hearings to hear their concerns about the convenience store, originally proposed for 3,100 square feet but later reduced to 2,940 square feet. Michael Horner, a planner for the project, said that while he and others knew there would be opposition, Southland was willing to do whatever it could to win over residents.
"Southland said, "If we can't come up with a solution, we'll keep working until we find one,' " Horner said. "We told them, "We'll keep trying and trying and trying.' "
In addition to the community opposition, Southland had two more strikes against it: recommendations of denial from both the Planning Commission and county zoning staff.
Because most of the land consists of wetlands, woods and lakes and just one commercially zoned property sits to the west of the site just north of Race Track, planners said the 7-Eleven would not be appropriate.
If approved, the project would "set into motion inevitable changes to other parcels into the area," said planner Steve Allison.
The commission also was concerned that the site is within the Wellhead Resource Protection Area, established by the county to make sure underground fuel tanks are not too close to sources of drinking water. Two other gas stations are within 1 mile of the site, a fact that should be considered when looking at the 7-Eleven's potential long-term impacts on the environment, said Lorraine Duffy, the commission's planning manager.
But Vincent Marchetti, an attorney for Southland, said the commission had "no scientific evidence" that the other gas stations have contaminated the drinking water and that it was "unfair, arbitrary and illegal" not to support the project based on that speculation.
Claire Clements, the real estate agent who found the site for Southland, said Keystone residents should feel lucky the company was willing to change its usual design to make the store look more rural.
She submitted 65 signatures of supporters. She said members of the Keystone Civic Association never told Southland representatives they didn't want a gas station.
"Why would they tell us to go back and do all this work if they didn't want a gas station?" Clements said. "What you've got here is 10 dictators governing 10,000 acres of land."
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