Council hears from opponents, supporters of Sheetz's plan to move McCandless location
A request by Sheetz Inc. that town council alter its zoning law so it can move its current operation to a larger site across Perry Highway drew scores of residents to a public hearing last week.
Company officials said the Sheetz convenience store at the busy triangular junction of Old Perry Highway and Perry Highway lacks room to expand.
But residents who spoke at the hearing said they opposed the change because allowing a larger building closer to their homes will increase residents' exposure to gasoline and diesel fumes; add more noise, light and traffic congestion; make it more dangerous for kids waiting for school buses; lower nearby property values; and generally disturb the tranquility of their neighborhood.
Several people who came out in support of allowing the zoning change said moving the site across the road will cause little negative affect and might even lead to improvements to a part of town that needs to be rehabilitated.
At issue is the town's rule for the residential-commercial or “R-C” district that requires gasoline stations be at least 1,500 feet apart. Sheetz has requested that the language be altered to set the minimum distance at 1,500 feet from another gas station not located at the same signalized road intersection.
The R-C district runs along Route 19 from Prescott Drive to the McCandless/Ross border at Birch Avenue.
Michael Gronsky of Montclair Avenue said the zoning rule should not be changed because its intention was to “maintain the character” of the zoning district.
“The residents near any zoned district have a right to expect that they will be protected by the laws as they exist,” he said. “When we allow the laws to be changed by one party, after the fact ... it's like moving the goal posts once the game starts.”
Virginia Novak of Montclair Avenue said if Sheetz moves to the new location the value of her property will be diminished.
“We have absolutely no interest in living directly across the street from a mega Sheetz,” she said. “Having this gas station that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year will tremendously decrease our property value. How do you expect us to sell our homes in the future? Who would want to live here?”
Company officials noted that the zoning for the area proposed for the new store already allows gasoline stations and that the change in the language relating to how far apart they can be is “a limited request.”At a previous presentation before council, company representatives said the larger location and additional pumps will help cut traffic congestion by reducing the amount of time it takes to get in and out of the site. Plans also call for adding a dedicated turning lane and making traffic signal improvements.
Company officials have promised to work with the town and residents to develop lighting and landscaping plans that reduce the impact on nearby properties.
Ralph LeDonne of Peebles Road, a former town councilman and retired McCandless police chief, said concerns about property values might be unwarranted.
He noted that when the McIntyre Square shopping center along McKnight Road was developed more than three decades ago, people along his street and in the other nearby housing plans raised the same concerns about whether the project would lower the value of their homes.
“I was a real estate agent for 21 years during that period of time,” he said. “After it (the shopping center) was completed, the value of properties all escalated.”
Jonathan Bernstein of Highland Road said he lives near the current Sheetz location and has not experienced the kind of problems residents are anticipating if it is moved.
“My kids play out in the yard and we never smell gas,” he said. “We've never had an issue with noise keeping us up at night. Sheetz has been a good neighbor. I feel they have been responsible with how they manage things on their property.”
Bernstein said allowing the company to expand “would be a valuable asset to our community.”
Todd Rhule, owner of a heating and cooling company that would be next door to the new Sheetz, said the new building could help spur development of other commercial properties in the corridor where “the current buildings are all in a state of disrepair.”
Duquesne University law professor Joseph Sabino Mistick, who is a regular Tribune-Review contributing writer, spoke at the meeting on behalf of the developer.
He said using zoning to keep certain types of businesses separated from each other is an out-dated concept.
He noted that when zoning laws were first enacted in the 1920s “there were certain uses about which there was some uncertainty.”
“The thought was, if you spaced them you could spread the uncertainty around the community and see how that worked out,” he said.
But planners now reserve spacing requirements for things such as social service agencies, group homes, personal care and board houses and halfway houses.
“The thought is that concentrating them would have a deleterious affect on the community,” he said. “But as far as business uses, these days they are clustered instead of spaced.”The results of the public hearing will be reviewed at the town's zoning committee meeting July 9 and be up for formal consideration by council July 23.
If approved, the change would allow Sheetz to apply to build on the new site while letting the owner of the property currently leased by the company to continue using it, if they choose, as a gasoline station.
Tony LaRussa is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-772-6368 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @TonyLaRussaTrib.