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Blacksburg council approves Sheetz store over neighborhood opposition

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Sheetz, a 24-hour convenience center, offers nearly 600 locations in six states. A Sheetz was approved for land near the First & Main shopping center by Blacksburg Town Council Tuesday.

BLACKSBURG — The Town Council approved a conditional use permit request Tuesday that was needed for the construction of a Sheetz store — in a locality where even an established commercial add to a shopping center can meet opposition.

The approval, passed on a 5-1 vote, gives Sheetz the green light to build a gas station — along with the usual convenience store and fast-food components — on a 1.6-acre First & Main outparcel at 1704 S. Main St.

Councilman John Bush cast the no vote. Councilwoman Susan Mattingly was not at the meeting.

The development will include an approximately 4,900-square-foot building for the retail and fast-food services, according to project plans.

The permits are needed for the gasoline pumps and the installation of exterior speakers.

The gas station, which also calls for the provision of several Tesla electric vehicle charging stations, is among the latest developments being proposed for the area in and around First & Main. The area, already home to a movie theater and several restaurants, has seen some steady development over the past several years.

The Sheetz project, however, was criticized and opposed by numerous residents of nearby neighborhoods.

That opposition was present Tuesday as each of about a dozen speakers called on the council to vote down the requested permits.

Expressed concerns included worries of traffic, impact on the neighborhoods, increase in air pollution, nuisances such as noise and light and gasoline and oil potentially ending up in the ground and surface water. One speaker even raised concerns about an uptick in crime due as he said that gas stations are often targets of robberies.

Another concern, which town council members shared, was over noise from the exterior speakers, particularly the around the clock playing of music and broadcasts around the clock.

Uses for the exterior speakers under the initial project plans included music and promotional messages — now common features at many gas stations — but Sheetz has since agreed to limit employment of the outdoor devices to customer questions and emergency and safety-related reasons.

The proposed Sheetz would include “five gas dispensers to serve a total of 10 fueling positions,” according to plans. The business also plans to provide eight Tesla electric vehicle charging stations.

The retail and fast-food portion of the proposed Sheetz are allowed by-right in the general commercial zoning district that covers the property for the gas station.

Todd Jones, who was among the speakers, raised concerns about an increased number of cars passing through the nearby neighborhood and the impact of lighting from the business. He said the Sheetz isn't the right fit for that area.

"The last thing we want to do is ​sit in our backyards and hear a gas station across the fence," he said.

Bush echoed some of the speakers' concerns, including one about whether the project reflects the town's climate action plan.

Bush also questioned whether the project truly supports the values expressed in the town's vision statements and other similar documents.

"I see a project that we can see at almost any interstate, exit, all across this part of the United States," he said, later adding that he's not generally in favor of convenience store style projects and fast-food places. "I just don't see it being the type of establishment that really says 'Welcome to Blacksburg.'"

On the other hand, several of Bush's fellow council members said they were asked to consider a narrow set of issues. They did say that residents still raised many good points.

Councilman Michael Sutphin said he was glad to see the developer address a number of key issues, including agreeing to not play music and broadcasts around the clock on the exterior speakers and commitments to several traffic improvements.

"I believe the applicant has successfully managed these adverse impacts," Sutphin said.

Councilwoman Susan Anderson, who touted the planned electric car charging stations, said Main Street in general "makes sense" for a gas station.

Anderson also recalled the history of First & Main's development and spoke about some of the shopping center's struggles.

"I think a development proposal here that's done successfully would help First & Main," she said.


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