Beaches residents take tougher approach to Gate plans

More than 100 turn out for open house with issues with proposed gas station location

Gate Petroleum Company attempted Tuesday evening to ease the concerns of Atlantic Beach residents about a proposed gas station on Atlantic Boulevard, but some of those present at the open house just weren’t buying it.

Even as more than 100 individuals packed a small conference room at the Adele Grage Community Center, a handful of people stood unmoving in the center of the room. Almost all of them held protest signs: “Gate your worst neighbor.”

“I feel like we don’t need another gas station. We need places like Beach Diner,” Debbie Pugh said. “I can think of six gas stations within a couple miles of my home.”

Her shirt, a common sight among the crowd, supported the movement known as Atlantic Beach Cares and its effort to stop the gas station from coming into the community. Pugh said she attended the meeting simply to make her presence known — and wasn’t interested in asking questions of any of the experts present.

Gate Petroleum set up five spots throughout the room to allow residents to talk one-on-one with the company’s safety director, its civil and traffic engineers, its architects and landscape architect and Gate President John Peyton.

“Our purpose for holding this meeting was to create an open dialogue” between Gate and the public, said Misty Skipper, the company’s vice president of marketing and communication.

More than a year ago, Gate purchased the 1.8-acre property on Atlantic Boulevard for about $1.6 million, according to the Jacksonville Property Appraiser’s Office.

Gate officials plan to build a 14-pump gas station and a 6,400-square-foot convenience store after they demolish the existing strip commercial center and adjacent parking lot. Those pumps, officials say, will be located on seven filling stations.

Since plans solidified, residents in the nearby SaltAir neighborhood have fought to stop the gas station’s progress. They argue its presence will hurt the surrounding community, especially people living on Sturdivant Street.

“Sturdivant is just a back road — but after the gas station, there’s going to be cars and trucks and people all over there,” said Jane LaRoque. “The other gas stations in Atlantic Beach aren’t in a residential area. This is a classic example of guys with money saying they don’t care about the community.”

Her question for Gate: What value does this add to the community?

For Gate, the answer is convenience — and possibly improved safety.

The existing shopping center on the property offers six points of access along Sturdivant Avenue and requires all loading in the rear along that street. The strip center has minimal landscaping and does not provide an on-site retention for stormwater runoff.

The Gate gas station, however, would reduce the access points on Sturdivant to two and locate all loading on the side of the building, facing other retail establishments.

Concerned residents at the meeting seemed to have the similar questions: How much light pollution will a 24-hour gas station emit? Will there be on-site security? How will the gas station deal with skimmers? Has the company completed a traffic study?

Regarding security, Mark Bachara, the director of safety, said Gate staffs two employees at all times and the company does not tolerate loitering or transients on its property, he said.

Those words sat uncomfortably with local Eileen Campbell, who asked, “What will the cost be to the city of Atlantic Beach Police Department?”

No cost, Bachara said.

In fact, he added the company plans to incorporate exterior cameras on the front of the building and could consider them for the back.

Glenn Shuck, whose house faces the proposed site and who is one of the organizers behind Atlantic Beach Cares, said he felt the company wasn’t being honest.

“This is a little bit of smoke and mirrors,” he added. “I really think that’s the gist of what needs to be said.”

As the meeting drew to a close, he approached John Peyton, introduced himself and shook Peyton’s hand.

“You’re our neighbor,” Peyton said. Shuck agreed.

“Why,” Shuck asked, “the need to stay open 24/7?”

“We’re in the business of convenience,” Peyton responded. “That means being available 24/7.”

 

Amanda Williamson: (904) 359-4665

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