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Strongsville under legal pressure to approve new Circle K; residents push back

September 24, 2018

Strongsville under legal pressure to approve new Circle K; residents push back

STRONGSVILLE, Ohio – City Council is receiving legal pressure to allow a Circle K at the southwest corner of Royalton Road and West 130th Street.

Petros Development Corp. of Broadview Heights wants to build the gas station-convenience store on a 1.5-acre vacant lot, just north of Cleveland Metroparks, but first needs council to rezone the parcel from a local-business district to a motorist-service district. Petros applied for the rezoning about three months ago.

“The rezoning is proper and is supported by Ohio law,” John Slagter – an attorney with Buckingham, Doolittle and Burroughs LLC, a Cleveland law firm representing Petros – told council in an Aug. 29 letter. “We respectfully request that you approve the rezoning.”

Meanwhile, families living near the Royalton-West 130th intersection, during a Sept. 4 public hearing, pushed back against the rezoning. They are concerned about traffic, pollution and noise they said the Circle K would bring.

Margaret Nicholson, who has lived on Royalton near West 130th for more than 60 years, told council that about a year ago, Petros’ corner lot was cleared of old trees and left barren.

“This is sad,” Nicholson told council Sept. 4, according to meeting transcripts. “My house no longer has privacy. The noise from the corner traffic and the local taverns are loud. The streets light up my yard at night.

“It has been very hard,” Nicholson said. “Do any of you council members want to live next to a gas station?”

In December, council voted 4-3 to allow a four- or five-building retail center on Royalton across from SouthPark Mall after attorneys representing the developer threatened to sue if council didn’t approve the plan.

At the time, then-council President Ken Dooner said he opposed the rezoning that made the retail center possible but voted in favor due to the legal threat. Dooner and Councilman Duke Southworth, who also voted for the rezoning, are no longer on council.

Slagter, in his August letter to council, did not overtly threaten to sue the city.

Council didn’t vote on the proposed Petros rezoning Sept. 4 and the rezoning did not appear on its Sept. 17 agenda.

“My understanding is that council has every intention of addressing (the proposed rezoning) in the near future,” Law Director Neal Jamison told cleveland.com Monday. “They just haven’t scheduled a vote yet.”

Council members Ann Roff, Kelly Kosek, Gordon Short, Jim Carbone, Joe DeMio and Matt Schonhut did not return calls. Councilman Michael Daymut was unavailable for comment.

Legal arguments

In his Aug. 29 letter to council, Slagter said the proposed rezoning is proper because it would protect Petros’ property rights. He said the Ohio Supreme Court has considered property rights as a fundamental right.

Slagter said Ohio case law recognizes that zoning is discriminatory if it’s different than zoning around it. Property on the northwest corner of Royalton-West 130th, across from the Petros lot, is zoned motorist service.

“One of the primary factors that courts look at in determining whether a zoning regulation passes the constitutional muster is whether the zoning classification arbitrarily imposes regulations that are inconsistent with the character of the surrounding area or substantially similar properties,” Slagter said.

The proposed rezoning, Slagter said, would also “advance legitimate governmental purposes” because it would benefit the public. The existing zoning does not advance legitimate governmental purposes because the lot’s location at a major intersection supports a change to motorist-service zoning, he said.

Slagter said Petros has marketed the Royalton-West 130th lot for several years but has failed to find a buyer or user. That means the existing zoning is “not economically feasible.”

“There is no rational basis to continue to apply the restrictive and economically infeasible local-business zoning designation on the (Petros) property,” Slagter said.

Greg Modic, a Petros representative, told council Sept. 4 that Circle K would not generate additional traffic because it’s a “convenience draw,” not a “destination draw.” People will not drive out of their way to go there but might stop in if they’re passing by, he said.

Environmental arguments

At the Sept. 4 public hearing, Joe Stronsick, who lives on Royalton, said Strongsville already has enough gas stations. He counted four on West 130th alone between Ohio 303 and Royalton.

Joe Nicholson, a Grafton resident whose family lives near the Petros lot in Strongsville, said Strongsville contains 12 gas stations, or about one every 2 square miles.

Nicholson said residents living near Royalton-West 130th don’t want to smell gasoline fumes or see litter and bright lights emanating from a gas station. He said such conditions would decrease residential property values.

Dr. Richard Mahon – a Copley resident who works at Akron Children’s Hospital and whose family lives near the Petros property – said exposure to benzene, an ingredient of gasoline, causes “numerous blood cancers . . . It’s also a known carcinogen that has been shown to affect the central nervous system, respiratory track (and) immune system.”

Mahon said prolonged living next to a gas station can cause cardiac arrhythmia, liver and kidney disease and developmental issues.

Mahon added that gasoline from pumps can leak into the soil and groundwater below. He said research has shown that, conservatively speaking, about 1,500 liters of gasoline are spilled each decade at a typical gas station.

Also, Mahon said gas stations that fail as businesses are not easily converted to other types of business.

“The pumps, canopies and building you see above ground may seem easy to demolish, but again, a bigger challenge is found below the surface in the large underground fuel storage tanks that serve the station,” Mahon said.

“Removal of these tanks, including preventing contamination caused by leaks from them, is a very involved and expensive process that could possibly make the site undesirable for future development,” Mahon said

Michael Gollini of Royalton said the proposed Circle K would be open 24 hours and would attract “unsavory” people wanting only to hang out there. That would burden both police and residents.

Linda Ponstingle of Royalton said the city should focus on filling vacant commercial buildings, some on Royalton near West 130th, instead of building new ones.

“The city continues to build and build and build,” Ponstingle said. “Are you at the point that you are maxed out?”

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