Plans to knock down the ZX gas station and convenience store at the northeast corner of Providence Road and Locust Street to build a new one didn't meet muster at the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night.
“My client is looking to upgrade and update the entire lot, both inside and out,” Phebe LaMar, the attorney representing the property owner, Midwest Petroleum Co., said.
The new store would offer more dispensed beverages, “brew on demand” coffee, more groceries and to-go food and additional automotive products, along with three bays of fuel pumps.
“We're trying to be a service for the people who are either downtown for work, live there, or just come downtown,” LaMar said.
The main obstacle to the plan is Midwest Petroleum's request it be required to grant only 6 additional feet of right of way along Providence Road rather than the 18 feet the city code requires.
The city planning staff recommended the commission deny that request in case the city or the Missouri Department of Transportation ever needs to widen Providence at that intersection. The commission voted 9-0 to do just that, despite LaMar's assertion the plan submitted is the only realistic way to redevelop the property.
“There is no logistical or realistic way...to do this project and make the upgrades and updates that will allow for the business if we try to expand the right of way by the full 18 feet requested,” LaMar told commissioners. “The lot is too narrow and doesn’t permit doing what we need to do with it if we have to grant that 18 feet.”
LaMar also said MoDOT has made a substantial investment to the sidewalks in the area recently. She believes it's unlikely the department would expand Providence Road, also known as Highway 163, anytime soon.
Patrick Zenner, development services manager for the city, conceded the difficulty of making decisions on behalf of MoDOT. While it's true there might be no plans to improve Providence now, there's no way to know what the future might hold, he said.
Commissioner Michael MacMann worried about the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians at what he called an already dangerous intersection.
“If there is any area of Providence that is prime for another turn lane, accelerated or expanded bicycle or pedestrian safety, it is this particular intersection, MacMann said. “To minimize the amount of area needed to facilitate that safety, I think is problematic.”
Commissioner Sharon Geuea Jones said she uses the ZX gas station frequently and sees “near misses there all the time.” She said it's important the commission ensures it gets adequate right of way so it doesn't cause problems in the future.
Commissioner Tootie Burns also frequents the gas station. “It is a difficult lot, and I feel for the applicant on that, but it feels like we're trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole here.”
The conceptual plan submitted to the city calls for the new store to be built on the northern edge of the lot and to face Locust Street rather than Providence Road. Midwest Petroleum President James McNutt said that's the only way the company can build a store large enough to meet its goals.
He also noted that Flat Branch flows directly behind the existing store and constricts what the developer can do with the lot.
Commissioner Anthony Stanton suggested Midwest Petroleum could demolish the 9 Rounds building directly north of the new store it hopes to build.
“The entrepreneur in you is wanting to have two lots so you can squeeze more money out of the back one,” he said.
McNutt acknowledged the company wants to lease the 9 Rounds building or perhaps sell the lot. He said it has heard interest from The Grind coffee shop about locating there.
Midwest Petroleum also asked for relief from two other parts of the city code. It wants to subdivide the property into two lots, even though the city code would normally prevent it from doing so because a parking lot would cross the new lot line. It also wants the city to waive a requirement that it round off the corners of the lot where it borders right of way for a section of Cherry Street that doesn't exist.
The commission had few issues with those requests and voted 7-2 in favor of them, with Jones and Burns dissenting. The commission voted 9-0 to recommend the Columbia City Council deny the overall replat.
The commission also voted 9-0 to recommend the council approve a city-requested rezoning of part of a lot in Deerfield Ridge off Scott Boulevard to allow construction of a fire station to serve the far southwest part of the city.
Jones expressed support for the rezoning, saying she used to live in that area and that there were major delays when residents sought emergency services.