Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Details revealed on Oleander, Dawson streets gas stations ahead of planning commission

A sign opposing the rezoning application to convert 5400 Oleander Drive into a gas station in the Englewood neighborhood. (Port City Daily/Brenna Flanagan)

WILMINGTON — Two national convenience store chains will head to the Wilmington planning commission requesting rezonings for parcels along Oleander Drive and Dawson Street. 

READ MORE: More gas stations fly South as city considers change in design standards

According to the Wilmington Planning Commission’s Dec. 6 agenda, Circle K is proposing a gas station at 1618 Dawson St. The site was formerly a CVS and Walgreens before closing in 2021.

City emails Port City Daily accessed in October 2022 indicated the spot was a potential location for a Wawa, a beloved East Coast convenience store with several Cape Fear stores already in the works. In May, Wilmington City Council approved a rezoning for a Wawa at S. 17th St. and Wellington Avenue. Another has been pitched for Carolina Beach Road in New Hanover County. 

Though not coming to Dawson Street, Wawa instead has set its sights on the former Hops Supply location at 5400 Oleander Drive, according to residents that attended a community meeting for the development in October. 

City staff confirmed it is in possession of a conditional district application for a C-store at the site, but the application does not identify the type according to city spokesperson Lauren Edwards. 

Wawa representative Lori Bruce said: “We can’t confirm the specific site you mention below, we can say that we are actively looking for sites in and expanding to the Eastern North Carolina market.” 

In March, Katherine Goldfaden of the LM Restaurant franchise that owns the Hops brand confirmed a gas station was in the works at the location. The Oleander spot was originally tapped by Baltimore-based Royal Farms as part of its four-location expansion into Wilmington. One is planned behind the Azalea Inn and Suites on Market Street and another at the juncture of Highway 132 and Highway 17 in Castle Hayne; details on the fourth have not been disclosed. 

PCD asked Royal Farms for details on its involvement and abandonment of the property; no one responded by press. 

Edwards said the application is expected to go before the planning commission on Feb. 7. Neighbors are already gearing up to protest the development.

Valerie Rider is the de facto representative of the communities of Englewood and Clearbrook neighborhoods surrounding the former Hops site.

“The overall quality of life for both humans and animals is something that should be taken into account,” Rider said. “Just because you’re a big business with deep pockets doesn’t mean that you don’t have a responsibility to care about the people who are here and will be directly affected by this.”

Rider takes walks most mornings, where she observes foxes, rabbits, and birds; she said she’s scared those animals will disappear or be harmed if a gas station moves in. She is also worried about light pollution and traffic from the Wawa; other locations are open 24/7.

Then there’s the protection of the Hewlett’s Creek watershed, Rider emphasized. She claims the development is incompatible with the city’s 2012 watershed restoration plan for Bradley and Hewlett’s creeks. 

Both bodies of water have struggled with high levels of fecal bacteria and poor water quality, the primary cause being stormwater runoff from the “intense, hardened urbanization in these watersheds,” according to the plan. This has threatened shellfish populations in the creeks and necessitated swimming advisories in Banks Channel near Wrightsville Beach.

Rider and her group also plan to make note to council the rezoning history of the parcel. In 1994, the planning commission was faced with the same rezoning request from the residential R-15 district to commercial business. It denied that request to avoid encroaching into residential properties with what could be a wide range of commercial activity. Though, a special use permit was granted to the applicant for office space. Hops moved to the property in 2012. 

“There really wasn’t much disruption or disturbance to the neighborhood at all,” Rider said, referring to Hops tenure. “And many of us patronized Hops as well. They actually turned out to be a pretty good neighbor.”

Rider said she and her neighbors recognize some sort of business will take over the property, she said she just wished it would be a local business with the same stewardship Hops showed its surrounding community. 

Wawa has already pushed out several local businesses that occupied rented space in the Samelin Center strip mall at S. 17th Street and Wellington Drive. The shopping complex, a former Pizza Hut, a Nationwide Insurance building, and Hamm Hearing Aid Center will be razed to make way for Wawa on a 2.4-acre tract of land. 

Though there are several months to go before Wawa goes back through the city’s development pipeline, Circle K’s Dawson Street rezoning will be heard next week. 

The 1.74-acre property — located a block over from the Cargo District and directly across from a Sunoco gas station— is categorized as urban mixed use. The requested rezoning is to commercial business, with a conditional district allowing the city to put certain design requirements on the development prior to approval.  

Planning documents show the project would consist of a one-story structure, containing approximately 5,200 square feet, primarily fronting Dawson Street. Secondary entrances would be located along 16th and 17th streets. The store would include 14 fuel pumps under a one-story canopy located behind the building accompanied by 21 off-street parking spots. 

Staff’s stance on the project is neutral. They wrote the redevelopment “would remove a blighted vacant building and provide desired investment along an important commercial corridor,” for essential needs — food, fuel and financial services. 

Areas of non-support include transportation and parking management, staff indicating cross-access of parking with adjacent properties may not be possible due to an existing stormwater pond and building. North Carolina Department of Transportation data shows 16th and 17th streets are already operating at an F level-of-service, Dawson Street at an E, and the Circle K will generate more vehicle trips — 3, 712 on an average. That’s almost three times more than the drug store use under the current zoning would generate.

According to the application, road improvements are proposed on Dawson Street to improve traffic flow and congestion near the adjacent intersections. 

Staff recommends the site be limited to general retail use with 14 accessory fuel pumps along with the protection and retention of any significant and specimen trees located outside of the building footprint and essential site improvements.

The planning commission will meet on Dec. 6 at 6 p.m.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at brenna@localdailymedia.com 

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