Chad Baker, RaceTrac’s senior project manager, told residents at a March 5 community meeting that the company would file applications with the county on March 7 to lift zoning restrictions on two of the three parcels on which it plans to build the project.
The parcels are zoned commercial, but two of them are former restaurant properties.
The applications, which would come before the Board of Commissioners for a vote in May, are seeking to remove the restaurant conditions.
In 2011, the company put its plans on hold after an outpouring of opposition from residents about building a fifth gas station in a one-mile stretch of corridor.
In the past two years, Baker said his company had solicited feedback, listened to the community, tried to understand its concerns, and has implemented some of the recommendations into the applications.
He said the community wanted a patio and extensive landscaping and it has incorporated both. It also is incorporating plans to create a gateway at the I-20/Wesley Chapel ramps and transform the median from the ramp to its store with extensive landscaping.
Baker said the community also asked the company to try to attract other retailers to the area and it has had talks with many, including Busy Bee Restaurants.
“What we are here tonight to do is to inform you that we are going to file our applications,” he said. “We can’t tell you we are here to build because we have to get approval from the county commissioners.”
The new 5,928-square-foot service station also would sell fresh fruit and frozen yogurt.
“We are going to bring you our first-rate store,” Baker said.
Atlanta-based RaceTrac, which operates more than 300 stores nationwide, plans to build its new brick-and-stone façade prototype store at the location that was home to a RaceTrac service station in the 1990s. That station was condemned by the Georgia Department of Transportation to make way for the Wesley Chapel road-widening project that began in 2004.
The company, which promotes itself as a low-price leader on gas prices, competes aggressively with QuikTrip, which has a store a mile away at the corner of Wesley Chapel and Rainbow Drive.
There are three other gas stations – Shell, Exxon and Chevron – on Wesley Chapel before getting to the QuikTrip.
The majority of homeowners at Tuesday’s community meeting were vocal in opposition to another gas station on the street.
Charles Peagler, who lives in the Kings Ridge subdivision on South Hairston Road, said he has opposed the store from the beginning and still does because it will hurt the corridor’s development opportunities.
“I just don’t see viable businesses gravitating to a service station as an anchor. Let’s be realistic here – you put that RaceTrac there, you just killed our street. We know that.”
Kevin Chapman, who started the effort to landscape the I-20/Wesley Chapel ramps, said he too is opposed to the RaceTrac.
“There is a over-saturation of gas stations in the immediate area,” he said. “I just don’t see how this gas station is going to help us with the goals of the overlay.”
He also said the RaceTrac proposal doesn’t go far enough.
“What you are willing to give the community pales in comparison to the detriment that will be done to the community,” he said.
Delores Harper, who also lives in Kings Ridge, said she supports the proposed RaceTrac.
“In this day and age, we cannot stagnate,” she said. “We have got to move forward. It’s time for us to start thinking about the changes that we need to be making to our neighborhood.”
Harper said there are no gas stations on the north side of I-20 and that it is inconvenient to get in and out of the QuikTrip at the other end of the commercial strip.
“The community needs businesses that are willing to invest the kind of money that RaceTrac is doing,” she said. “I say it would be an attraction that would be nothing but positive for our neighborhood.”
Charles Glover, who lives in the Rainbow Creek subdivision, said that five years ago, he would have said no.
“Today, we need a service station,” he said. “We need some funds in DeKalb County, in the South DeKalb area. If they don’t build something in this area, our property taxes are going to skyrocket. If you don’t put something in this area, you are going to price the retired people like myself out of our homes. So we need to look at this.”
Sean MacLaurin, RaceTrac’s real estate manager, said it respects people who are homeowners but it is a property owner too.
“We own the property and have the right to try to build our store,” he said.
Dennis Webb Jr., RaceTrac’s attorney, said that if it got its application to the point where it is approved, the landscape plan would be part of the approval.
“There would be a set of zoning conditions that say we will do X, Y and Z. One of the conditions would say that we would landscape the median, that we would plant the interchange,” he said. “So there would be no question. If somewhere down the road someone said they didn’t do it, you would have something to point to and they will come and say you are in violation and you will be in trouble.”
Baker said RaceTrac stores generate $400,000 a year in taxes and it wants to be part of initiatives to help develop the corridor. “We are here, ready to start development. We are willing to be part of the Wesley Chapel Coalition and the CID.”
MacLaurin said that he has been in talks with DeKalb Economic Development Director Charles Whatley about development options for the corridor and has reached out to Busy Bee Restaurants and other retailers who are in the market for new growth.
“We can’t obviously spend other people’s money, but we have done our part to make them aware of opportunities on the corridor,” he said. “Every time something new develops here or redevelops, it benefits us as property owners and business owners.”
Baker said the community is located at the intersection of two major interstates and the demand for gasoline is here.
“In the two years that we have been researching this and talking to people about coming with us to develop this corridor, nothing that we have learned has made us want to walk away or run from this,” he said. “In fact, we are committed to this.”