Sunday, February 25, 2024

‘State of the art’ Circle K, with nearly $6M price tag, turned down by city council

Circle K’s proposed rezoning to make way for a ‘state of the art’ gas station was turned down by Wilmington City Council. (Port City Daily/Copeland Jacobs)

WILMINGTON — A Circle K planned for the intersection of Dawson and 17th streets failed in a tie vote by the Wilmington City Council this week.

READ MORE: Wawa’s in, multiple small businesses are out

Circle K’s plans to rezone a 1.79 acre property for a proposed $5.8 million gas station located at 1618 Dawson Street didn’t pass muster. The Circle K would have been a 5,200 square-foot single-story building accessible via a pair of driveways, with 14 pumps underneath the canopy. 

The planning board voted to conditionally approve the request at its Dec. 6 meeting because the station would be high-quality development consistent with the surrounding development. City council had the final say.

Mayor Bill Saffo, Mayor Pro Tem Clifford Barnett, and council member Luke Waddell voted in favor, with Barnett asking if the redevelopment would improve the stormwater system — it would — and be commercial development on a major road. Waddell said he drives past the site every day and looks forward to seeing it redeveloped.

Council member Kevin Spears investigated the details of the item in an exchange with a Circle K proponent, and voted against it with council members Salette Andrews and David Joyner. Charlie Rivenbark was absent from the meeting, leading to a tied vote and the rezoning item failing. 

Speaking on behalf of Circle K, land use attorney Amy Schaefer, of the firm Lee Kaess, said the company was seeking to rezone the property from urban mixed use or UMX to CB (CD) community business (conditional district). The rezoning would allow the accessory fuel pumps and construction of a new Circle K. The site was formerly the home to many pharmacies throughout the years, the latest a Walgreens which closed in 2021. 

Schaefer broke down how the gas station would be acceptable within the boundaries of the Create Wilmington Comprehensive Plan. The station would be commercial redevelopment inside the inner city revitalization area of opportunity, in close proximity to necessary infrastructure, would add to the multiplicity of mixed building uses, and furnish the area with appealing landscaping and public benches.

Joyner asked Schaefer if the company had sought the input of two nearby gas stations, a Sunoco directly across the street and another located less than a mile away. Feedback had not been provided by area gas stations’ owners, Schaefer replied. 

Spears inquired what specific research had been conducted on bringing a Circle K to the site. Real estate development manager for Circle K Andy Priolo pointed to the high vehicle traffic — 45,000 cars pass the property daily. According to Assistant Director of Planning and Development Brian Chambers, a traffic impact analysis was not required of the plan. 

There are numerous Circle Ks in Wilmington, as pointed out by Spears, but Priolo said the Dawson Street building design would be different, “state of the art.” Spears asked Priolo to describe what made it rise above the rest. Priolo listed off a normal range of goods and services provided, such as an ATM, frozen food, beer, cigarettes, groceries and automotive items. 

Spears pilloried the Circle K as more of the same, referencing a joke that has been circulating throughout Wilmington for many years.

“You know, we kind of get beat up for same ol’, same ol’ … do we not have enough gas stations? Do we not have enough storage places? Do we not have enough car washes?” Spears asked Priolo. Google Maps shows around 19 car washes and 21 storage spaces exist in Wilmington. 

He then inquired about how many people would be employed and the salary ranges. Priolo answered 15 to 16, mostly minimum wage, but clarified Circle K pays more than the state’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. He also said managers would make more than employees, but when asked by Spears to give an exact dollar amount, Priolo said he did not know.

Spears added he thought there was a need for a pharmacy like those which had formerly occupied the property, though there is the Medical Center Speciality Pharmacy at nearby 912 S. 16th Street. 

Dan Spillman, a resident who spoke during the public hearing, said the expansion of gas station chains like Wawa and Royal Farms into Wilmington would negatively affect small-business gas stations. He thought most of the money from these chains would be going out-of-state.

Wilmington saw an increase in gas stations wanting to move to the area in the last year, including from Sheetz, 7-11, Royal Farms and Wawa. Wawa’s introduction into the region last spring drew criticism from Spears and the absent Rivenbark as well. The store’s purchase of property led to the eviction of independently owned businesses, most of whom have now relocated from the Samelin Center, which is to be torn down — along with other adjacent businesses — to build the store. Both Spears and Rivenbark voted against its rezoning at 17th Street and Wellington Avenue, but it still passed.

Circle K would have operated under a long-term ground lease and demolished the vacant former pharmacy to build anew. Though the rezoning failed, the company can resubmit in six months; it’s unclear if that will happen.

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