The Linden Planning Commission voted not to recommend approval for a conditional rezoning request for Beacon & Bridge gas station and convenience store on Thursday, Feb. 11.
The request was to rezone the gas station and convenience store from CBD (central business district) zoning to GC (general commercial). CBD zoning does not allow gas stations, and GC does as a special land use. The gas station has been allowed to operate as a nonconforming structure under certain conditions.
The majority of the speakers, including members from the Planning Commission, Linden City Council and residents had issues with preliminary site plans submitted Dec. 31, 2020.
In these plans, the small building south of Beacon & Bridge would be demolished and the gas station, which is currently 2,240 square feet, would be 2,880 square feet and would be placed farther south on the property. They would have eight pump stations instead of four.
Beacon & Bridge previously submitted plans that were approved that would place the store in the northern part of the lot, and the gas pumps would be on the south portion.
Bob Eastman, owner of Beacon & Bridge, spoke at the meeting and said they changed the plans for safety reasons. Truck drivers told them it would be difficult to pull out onto the street if their vision was blocked by the convenience store.
“I have an obligation to my people, to the residents of Linden to conduct a safe operation. That’s number one,” he said, adding that they want the building on the south portion to give drivers more space to pull out onto the street.
Scott Nelson from Beacon & Bridge said they also wanted to add public bathrooms. Tom Taylor of Linden, who does CPA services for Beacon & Bridge, said numerous people who work for the company live in Linden and have a vested interest in making the building look good for downtown.
Multiple citizens said they preferred the original May 2020 plans that included the building on the north portion of the lot because currently, pulling in and out of the gas station can be difficult with the traffic at the intersection.
Mayor Danielle Cusson said she’s been working with Beacon & Bridge and Eastman for several years in trying to get the underground gasoline leak remediated. She said that she helped Beacon & Bridge secure a reduction in fines from the state because the cost would make it harder to do redevelopment. Cusson said it’s disingenuous.
The proposed plan would also place a remediation trailer in front of the Linden Hotel, which would be there for five years. Multiple people said this would be an eyesore and not fair to the Linden Hotel.
City Planner Adam Young reviewed the plan through four criteria set in Section 154.030 of the City Zoning ordinance.
1. Whether the proposed rezoning is consistent with the goals, policies, and future land use map of the city’s Master Plan. Young said the proposed plans did not meet this standard.
2. The compatibility of all the potential uses allowed in the proposed zoning district with surrounding land uses and zoning districts in terms of land suitability, impacts on the environment, density, and influence on property values. Young said the plans did not meet this standard.
Young said the previous plan approved in May 2020 was a “compromising approach,” but these new plans don’t make an attempt to conform to Linden’s downtown character.
3. Whether any public services and facilities would be significantly adversely impacted by a development or use allowed under the requested rezoning. Consideration of impact on drains and roads is specifically required. Young said the plans met this standard. The new plans would result in the elimination of one driveway, which he thinks would be an improvement, and the onsite stormwater can be appropriately managed.
4. Whether the uses allowed under the proposed rezoning would be equally or better suited to the area than uses allowed under the current zoning of the land. Young said the plans did not meet this standard. He said allowing the expansion of an auto centric use is not consistent with the downtown character.
Young recommended the request be denied.
Planning Commissioner and City Councilor Brad Dick said safety concerns were addressed in the site plan layout, and they required Beacon & Bridge demonstrate that they can maneuver tanker trucks and semis in and out of the site safely. They restricted fuel delivery to off hours, and allowed them to make left turns onto East Broad Street, which other vehicles are not permitted to do.
Dick said the Michigan Department of Transportation specifies that there should be no driveway within 130 feet of an intersection, and that it’s safer to have the building on the north portion so the driveways can be farther away from the intersection. He’s not in favor of putting the remediation trailer in front of the Linden Hotel, because it could block views and inhibit fire trucks coming and going.
Ray Culbert, planning commissioner and city councilor, agreed with Dick and said it’s a “safety disaster waiting to happen” with the driveways and traffic flow at the gas station.
“It’s not like safety was not on our minds originally … There’s no doubt in my mind that this does not meet current ordinance requirements,” Culbert said.
Planning Commissioner Daniel Cusson said, “Aesthetically, it’s definitely not what we’re looking for in the master plan of our downtown,” and that if Eastman is about safety, then he would have made more of an effort to clean up the underground gas leak.
He doesn’t want the remediation trailer placed in front of the Linden Hotel, and he doesn’t like the way cars and trucks have to pull into the gas station.
The majority of the commission voted to deny the request, and Dick abstained. He said it can be appealed to the Linden Zoning Board of Appeals. Young said the decision will go before the Linden City Council at the next regular meeting on Monday, Feb. 22.