Atlantic Beach residents rally to save Beach Diner from plans for new gas station

By Amanda Williamson Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 4:01 pm | updated Thu, Jul 30, 2015 @ 7:53 pm

A dingy, yellowish building surrounded by parking spaces and an undeveloped lot sits across from Glenn Shuck’s Atlantic Beach home on Sturdivant Street.

He admits the building — as moldy and outdated as it is — is not the prettiest sight. But, Shuck said he fears it will be a thousand times better than what could eventually occupy the relatively large property where the small Atlantic Palms shopping center and the popular Beach Diner now reside.

If residents’ worst fears come true, a Gate Petroleum gas station could be built on the parcel, although officials with both the City of Atlantic Beach and Gate maintain nothing solid has been submitted to the city.

Almost a year ago, Gate Petroleum Company purchased the 1.8 acres on Atlantic Boulevard for approximately $1.6 million, according to the Jacksonville Property Appraiser's Office.

At the time, a spokeswoman with Gate reported there were no immediate plans to build a gas station on the lot. However, the purchase followed a lengthy discussion via email with Jeremy Hubsch, the planning and zoning director in Atlantic Beach, about a potential site plan that included 10 fueling stations and a 6,500-square-foot convenience station.

An ongoing dispute between Gate and the owners of Beach Diner over the number of parking spaces the corporation will leave for diner patrons has stalled plans until a settlement can be reached.

And now, Atlantic Beach residents are rallying behind the diner in an effort to stop the gas station from moving in at all.

Within three days, their social media campaign on Facebook, “Atlantic Beach Cares,” racked up almost 300 likes. People do not want to see a community landmark and tradition disappear to make way for a big-box chain, said Shuck, who is one of the organizers of the campaign.

Really, though, it is more than that.

“There is a time and a place for everything. This gas station would look great off I-95,” he said. “This isn’t your spot, Gate. You’re a good company. You have good products, good services. But, don't take it personally.”

The citizen group wants the city do what is right for the neighborhood that borders the proposed development site. Shuck and his counterparts said, however, they are already pursuing outside resources to help understand the potential dangers associated with building a large-scale gas station directly across the street from a residential community and less than five blocks from the beach.

Concerned citizens worry the gas station will negatively impact traffic along the two-lane Sturdivant Street, which is already heavily trafficked. They believe crime could increase as transients — whether homeless or simply tourists — stop in the Salt Air subdivision to use Gate's services.

Shuck, whose house faces the proposed site, shares several concerns with other homeowners along his street. How much light pollution could a 24-hour, mega-gas station emit? Would living so close to the facility contaminate his air? How will he possibly be able to keep up with the litter he believes could be generated as a result of a nearby gas station?

“It is not just about seeing the facility. It is about living [near] it,” Susan Perry said. “We’ll never be able to keep our homes clean.”

Other residents worry a gas station doesn't adequately extend a favorable city image.

With Atlantic Beach mostly built out, every parcel slated for redevelopment and every undeveloped lot should offer the potential to create something unique and local, according to resident Susanne Barker. Does the kind of urban sprawl representative of a gas station really fit in with the city’s hoped-for look?

She sees the city as a small beachside community with a background of environmental preservation, not a town with a need for another gas station.

According to Gate Petroleum's Chief Operating Officer Mitchell Rhodes, company officials hope to bring the property at 535 Atlantic Boulevard back to life.

“For more than 50 years, Gate has worked hard to be a good neighbor in Northeast Florida. Beyond simply providing quality services and products, Gate supports the neighborhoods we serve by providing job opportunities, charitable contributions and more,” he said. “Our goal has been, and continues to be, reaching an agreement with our tenant that allows for the revitalization of the area and the continued success of their restaurant.”

What community residents want is to ensure the site is cleaned up properly, Shuck said. It anything else is to be built, it should be a business more in keeping with the neighborhood that allows the diner to retain adequate parking.

To underscore their opposition to Gates’ plan, more than 150 community members packed City Hall on Monday, July 27. The majority of the residents donned neon yellow shirts to show their support of the diner. Shuck said he hopes the visual helped the city commission understand the community is ready to fight to keep Gate out of Atlantic Beach.

“It’s like a bad tattoo — permanent,” he added. “Our belief is that Atlantic Beach does not need another gas station of that size.”

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