Public hearing on Sheetz’s plan to move across Perry Highway in McCandless draws supporters, detractors
McCandless council heard nearly four hours of testimony Monday during a public hearing to determine whether Sheetz meets the zoning requirements to move across Old Perry Highway to a new location it wants to build near the intersection of Montclair Avenue.
Scores of residents -- both those in support of the project and those against the move -- packed the meeting, but many left before getting a chance to speak because of the length of the hearing.
Representatives from Altoona-based Sheetz argued the company’s plans for the portion of the site on which the underground fuel tanks and pumps will be installed already is zoned to allow a filling station.
Company officials said they will comply with or exceed the conditions the town is requiring to help limit the station’s impact on the nearby residences.
The hearing was only for three parcels of land along Perry Highway on which Sheetz plans to install the tanks and pumps. The land where the convenience store, additional parking, outdoor cafe and other elements will be primarily located is at 131 Montclair Ave., which is zoned for both residential and commercial use but does not permit a fuel station.
The company plans to submit a separate site plan for the store, which also would have to be approved by council.
But attorney Dwight Ferguson, who is representing a dozen nearby residents opposed to the project, argued that Monday’s hearing should not have been conducted because both the store and gas station are one project that should be addressed together.
He said the town improperly posted signs for the hearing because none were placed on the property where the store will be constructed.
“It (the project) is not limited to those three (Perry Highway) properties,” he said. “This development includes 131 Montclair. That’s probably 99 percent of the reason my clients are here. For that reason, the notice is misleading.”
Ferguson supported his position the store and gasoline station should be addressed as one project by noting the convenience store, among other things, will contain the power panel and emergency shut-off systems for the gas pumps; the place where cleaning and other supplies for the pumps are stored; and will be where employees who pump gas for those who requests help will work.
Sheetz attorney Ryan Wotus said “it is not a rarity” for an application to be split into separate pieces when a project involves development of land that crosses different zoning classifications.
He said the law requires the question of whether the company has met the zoning issue for the three properties, which must be resolved before site plans are submitted for the land on which the store will be located.
Wotus argued that including the parcel where the store will be built, “would actually be improper” because questions about that portion of the project should be handled when the land development application is filed.
“The only application pending tonight before council is for a public hearing related to the R-C district and those (three) properties,” he said. “We’re not talking about land development, design or anything that would be subject to that type of approval.”
Ferguson tried to get the hearing postponed by noting that a challenge to the zoning for 131 Montclair Ave. has been filed with the town’s zoning hearing board and any action taken by town council on the project -- including the Oct. 22 hearing -- should be put off until a ruling on the zoning has been issued.
Town council noted Ferguson’s position for the record but ruled the hearing should continue.
After more than three hours of testimony, Councilman Bill Kirk questioned whether the length of the hearing eliminated the opportunity for people to voice their concerns.
“A lot of people have left due to lateness of hour,” Kirk said shortly before 11 p.m. “I’m concerned that they will not have the opportunity for public comment.”
Town attorney Gavin Robb said once the public hearing concludes, additional comments cannot be added to the official record. But residents will be able to comment when the matter is discussed at council’s committee meetings Nov. 12 and those statements would be taken into consideration when council deliberates.
Some residents did stay long enough to offer opinions about the project.
“I am really disappointed with this company,” said Jason Moots of Montclair Avenue. “There are so many of us who felt the need, were so scared with this, we had to hire an attorney because in the last six months, Sheetz has not offered one meeting with us to be proactive, to sit down with us, to ask us what would make us happy and how they could work with us.”
Stephanie Howard said she supports the project because it will benefit the entire community.
“I understand the concerns of the people who live on Montclair,” she said.“But we’re talking about eight houses. There’s over 28,000 people who live in McCandless and so many of them frequent the Sheetz that is there now. You have to think about the whole community, not just these couple of people.”
Town officials and company representatives Oct. 22 did outline measures that could be taken to address concerns raised by residents about the project’s impact.
Bruce Betty, the town’s zoning administrator, said the town staff and the planning issued the following recommendations for Sheetz to follow to reduce neighborhood impact:No external lighting of signs and installation of an opaque canopy over the fuel pumps lighting with recessed lighting that remove glare.Lighting that does not cause “disruptive” color alterations or illumination of adjacent properties.Construction of a large mound along Montclair that is heavier than the normal buffer required. The mound also should be planted with evergreens along with the traditional shrubs and trees to provide year-round screening of the site.Lower lighting poles that are adjacent to residential properties.Prohibiting trash collection and fuel and product deliveries between 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.Limiting outside dining to certain hours that would be determined at a later date.Keeping fuel tanks at least 300 feet from the closest residential property line to avoid problems with obtaining home loan guarantees.
Additionally, Sheetz will be required to make significant upgrades to improve safety and traffic flow near the intersection where the entrance to the convenience store will be located.