BURLINGTON — The Burlington Plan Commission decided to forward Casey’s General Store’s proposal for 100-125 S. Dodge St. to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole, although the discussion raised the question of the commission’s role in shaping the business landscape of the community.
When Casey’s presented the project to the commission in December, commissioners had asked the company to revise the design to better fit the surrounding architecture of the city’s historic downtown area.
Lauren Downing, a project manager at Arc Design Resources, presented the updated proposal which included the requested changes. A substantial amount of the fire engine red signage had been replaced with tan and the boxy exterior changed to include a hipped roof.
During the public hearing, 4th District Alderman Tom Preusker said he liked the new design but was concerned about flooding at the location, which was underwater during last July’s historic flood.
“I’m concerned about flammable material in an area that was underwater during the last flood,” said Preusker. “I have no doubt that it complies completely with our existing ordinances and codes, yet it’s my understanding that I don’t think any of those have been updated yet to reflect the reality that we all experienced in July last year.”
Downing responded that the tanks would be strapped down so buoyancy would’t be an issue, and the layout has placed the tanks out of the 100-year flood zone and only half are within the 500-year flood zone.
Joe Cherian, whose father-in-law owns the Mobile station at State and Main streets, asked why the city needed another gas station when their business is struggling.
“Bringing in the Casey’s so close to us is going to greatly affect us,” said Cherian. “You’ll have one beautiful site here but you’ll have five, six boarded-up sites. Is that what you want?”
Third District Alderman Tom Vos argued that competition is part of doing business.
“That may be hard-hearted, but all these years that I was in the roofing business, I would have loved to have been the only roofing contractor,” said Vos. “But that’s not reality.”
Vos argued that as long as a business crossed its T’s and dotted their I’s, the Plan Commission should approve the plan.
“I don’t think the Planning Commission has the right or the ability to decide who comes to Burlington, as long as they meet our codes, our requirements, our zoning, so on and so forth,” said Vos.
Best use for site?
Second District Alderman Bob Grandi, who dialed into Tuesday’s meeting by phone, said that he agreed the commission’s job is not to stifle competition but questioned whether a gas station was the best use for the lot.
City Planner Tanya Fonseca said that, according to the city’s comprehensive plan, the lot in question was marked for industry, which doesn’t reflect the changes that have occurred along the city’s riverfront in recent years.
“That’s a good question — how you can determine highest and best use? — and there’s, of course, no easy answer,” said Fonseca. “It is something that we’re going to grapple with in the community for decades to come, parcel by parcel.”
One of the resolutions that was passed on Tuesday was an amendment to the comprehensive plan to accommodate Casey’s. Fonseca said the city is about to undertake the comprehensive planning process to update the plan.
“This is an opportunity to start visioning what we do want in the community,” she said. “Not only for this parcel, but beyond.”
The Plan Commission passed the resolutions allowing Casey’s to move to the next step in the process, which is to go before the City Council’s Committee of the Whole and ultimately the full council.
The committee will consider the proposal to amend the map so the two lots on the block will become one and be rezoned for business. The council will hold a public hearing regarding the amendments.