A Sheetz convenience store and truck stop may be built on Spielman Road near Interstate 81 after a decision by the Washington County Board of Zoning Appeals.
But immediately after the board’s 4-1 vote on Wednesday, a lawyer said the decision could be appealed.
“We will certainly review the merits of the decision,” said Michele McDaniel Rosenfeld, a lawyer representing some of the opponents. “I think there was a misanalysis. … I don’t think it’s over yet.
Meanwhile, a representative from the Bowman Group, which owns the property, was pleased with the outcome.
“We are thrilled,” said Rob Ferree, president of Bowman Development. “We are delighted to have finally obtained the approval of the BZA for the Sheetz store with refueling and truck parking.”
The Bowman Group has planned put similar businesses on the approximately 9-acre site in 2001 and 2017. Neither came to fruition.
The property has recently been used to store semi-trailers.
The official decision of the zoning board must be rendered within 30 days. After that, opponents could appeal the decision in Washington County Circuit Court.
Decision based on a series of factors
The council members’ discussion echoed some of the remarks made during a public hearing on June 8.
During this session, opponents raised concerns about traffic, safety, noise and other issues.
Proponents and spokespersons for the developers said traffic and safety issues could be resolved and the facility was needed in the area to serve local residents and people traveling on I-81.
Bowman Development and Sheetz describe the facility as a standard Sheetz wrecker with six tractor-trailer refueling pumps and 30 tractor-trailer parking spaces.
There would be no showers, overnight accommodations or other amenities for truckers. The parking and refueling area for heavy goods vehicles would be separate from the parking and refueling area for passenger vehicles.
They said the facility is only considered a truck stop because of the county’s definition of that term, which includes providing fuel for trucks.
The property is zoned highway interchange, which allows for a variety of uses, including warehouses. But setting up a truck stop there requires a special exception from the zoning board.
The code states that council should not grant a special exception if it finds that the proposed development “would harm public health, safety, security, morals or general welfare, or result in unsafe traffic conditions, or would endanger the lives or property of residents in the neighborhood.”
In reaching a decision, the code says council must consider a range of factors, such as the “orderly growth of the community”, traffic, impact on property values and “the peaceful enjoyment of the people in their homes”, among others.
“Most Appropriate Use” of Property
Board member Jay Miller went through each of these factors during Wednesday’s deliberations.
He said he travels to this area often and has some experience in traffic jams at the intersection where Spielman Road (Md. 63), Lappans Road (Md. 68) and Governor Lane Boulevard meet.
The truck stop plan includes changes, such as adding a left-turn lane, that would improve traffic flow there, he said.
Miller said the roadhouse would ensure the orderly growth of the community. And he said estate agents said the development would not affect property values.
Only one owner lives in the immediate vicinity of the site, he said.
Miller concluded that the truck stop is the “most appropriate use” of the property.
“I disagree,” retorted board member Tracie Felker
She said opponents had submitted a petition with 180 signatures from people against the project. She also spoke about naysayers’ concerns about potential safety issues, traffic jams, declining property values and other issues.
“What’s the benefit of putting a truck stop in a community that really doesn’t want one?” she asked.
Michael Zampelli, council co-chair, responded that council’s role is to follow the county’s zoning code and weigh the “delicate balance” between a homeowner’s rights and community impacts.
He said the Bowman Group’s partnership with Sheetz is “probably more attractive than other options,” such as a manufacturing plant, which would not need zoning board approval.
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Board chairman Paul Fulk said some of the opponents lived a mile or two from the site. He asked Felker if she considered them to be in “close proximity” to the proposed truck stop.
“It’s immediate for me, of course,” she replied.
Fulk previously said the board should base a special exception decision on evidence, not how many people are for or against a particular proposal.
In the end, Fulk, Zampelli, Miller, and John Cohill voted to grant the special exception.
Felker voted against.
President: Commissioners’ letter “is inappropriate”
During the discussion, Fulk noted that three of the five county commissioners — Terry Baker, Charlie Burkett and Wayne Keefer — sent a letter to council urging them to refuse the special exception.
The letter recognized the independent role of the zoning board, but asked members to also recognize the position of the commissioners as elected officials responsible for long-range planning.
The letter says residents “expressed valid concerns.”
Fulk said that while individual commissioners could comment as citizens, the letter appeared “politically motivated” to “try to sway our opinion”.
“(The) county commissioners, three of them, writing a letter on county commissioners letterhead is inappropriate. It was wrong,” Fulk said.
In a text message Thursday, Keefer noted that the courts have overruled the zoning board’s decision on similar issues in the past.
“For county commissioners to not be able to have an opinion on county zoning matters is an absurd thought,” he added. “I find it baffling that the president of a public body would object to elected officials standing up for the concerns expressed by their constituents, particularly those relating to security and emergency services which this ruling appears to ignore. .I think it may be time to have some new leadership on this board.”
In an interview Thursday, Burkett said the letter was not meant to intimidate zoning board members.
“It’s the commissioners’ responsibility to be the voice of the people,” Burkett said. “When you have so many people who are against a proposal like this, you should talk about it.”
Burkett said he believed in private property rights, but hoped the developers would offer something “more complimentary” to the community.
Messages to Baker were not immediately returned Thursday.
The other two commissioners, Randy Wagner and Jeff Cline, refused to sign the letter. Wagner said the property is zoned Highway Interchange and could be used more heavily under the zoning code. Cline said he would wait for the zoning board to make a decision.
Cline, Wagner, Burkett and Keefer are eligible for re-election this election cycle. Baker is running for the House of Delegates seat in District 1C, which includes the Spielman Road site.
The primary is July 19 and early voting begins July 7.
Mike Lewis covers business, economics and other issues. Follow Mike on Twitter: @MiLewis.