June 27, 2018 ~ Cindy Waeltermann
Controversy is once again swirling in McCandless over the construction of a new and improved Sheetz convenience store to be located at the corner of Perry Highway and Montclair Ave. The Altoona-based chain unveiled plans last Spring to construct a larger facility nearly across the street from its current location, however Town zoning ordinances that have been in place for over five decades prevent two gas stations in close proximity along the residential/commercially zoned properties. Sheetz has requested a change in the ordinance that prevents two such facilities within 1,500 feet of one another. Currently, gas stations must be a minimum of 1,500 feet apart, according to the ordinance. Sheetz is requesting that the language be changed to include the words “from another gas station not located at the same signalized road intersection.”
The reason for the request is fairly simple: they want to keep the old location open while constructing the new and improved store and current antiquated ordinances prevent them from doing so.
Residents near Montclair Ave. have launched a full-scale protest on the project citing issues from gas fumes to decreased property values they feel will occur with location of the new facility. A website and road signage decrying “Save McCandless” specify a host of issues that residents expect as a result of the new location. Specifically cited are issues such as benzene fumes, traffic, lighting pollution, contaminated drinking water, rowdy teenagers and gas leakage.
Several residents in the Montclair Avenue area have retained the services of attorney Dwight Ferguson, whose name became synonymous with the “Citizens of McCandless” group who mounted an offensive against a proposed Wal-Mart on Blazier Drive. Neither Giant Eagle nor the Citizens of McCandless had much to do with the eventual pull-out on the project, however. Wal-Mart eventually let paperwork on the property lapse. Giant Eagle acquired the property for $1.3 million after Wal-Mart had already decided to discontinue its plans.
Proponents of the plan have cited the need for a new and improved Sheetz. The current location is arguably one of the most dangerous intersections in McCandless. The triangular shape of the property has not allowed Sheetz to expand since its construction in the early 80’s. The parking lot is too small for the amount of traffic the store generates and the intersection signal lights and traffic patterns are woefully inadequate.
It should be noted that Sheetz does not own the property of the current location. If the new location becomes a reality, Sheetz will remove all underground tanks. The property will revert back to the owners, who will likely search for another tenant. Because of its high-visibility location, the property would likely be rented quickly.
For some reason, Access McCandless has noted that Sheetz has been unable to get their side of the story out to the public at Town Council meetings. Because of time constraints, Sheetz was unable to present materials that may have allayed concerns of neighbors. Sheetz was prepared to discuss concerns with experts who were present at the public hearing that included gas tank experts, environmentalists, lighting and traffic engineers.
We have also noticed that there are many questions on our Facebook page regarding the plans for the new facility and how the issues that neighbors have specified would be handled. We contacted Sheetz officials to get answers to these questions.
(Note: Click on the photos to view a larger version)
In a meeting with two Sheetz representatives who are handling the design and relocation of the new store, Access McCandless brought the list of concerns indicated by residents on both our Facebook page and the savemccandless.com website along and asked to go over each concern one by one.
Why did you choose this location? Many residents have made inquiries regarding why a site was not chosen on the Wexford flats, or the old liquor store on Rt. 19? According to Brian Dinges, a Sheetz employee who oversees all new construction, upgrades and rebuilds of all Sheetz facilities in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, multiple locations were scouted for the new store. Dinges indicated that Sheetz has tried to purchase property from CCAC for many years. “They were unwilling to sell,” he said, “we looked at multiple sites in the corridor before we made a decision.” Indeed, they looked at many locations, including some on the Wexford Flats and others in the Route 19 corridor.
Sheetz looked at the defunct Pizza Hut in the Wexford flats, but a new pet store will be moving in shortly. Other properties that were considered were the old Wendy’s on Rt. 19 at Reichold Rd, however, Get Go purchased the property. They also looked at the old liquor store property on Perry Highway. Multiple sites were investigated but were either inappropriate locations, were unavailable, or parties were unwilling to sell.”We have great customer loyalty in McCandless,” Dinges said. “The current facility is functionally obsolete and is not in line with our brand standards.” He also cited the dangerous parking lot and inadequate size. Dinges emphasized that Sheetz is a family-run business and does not franchise any of its locations. “We take a great deal of care to be a good neighbor and purposely design our facilities to mitigate any impact to neighbors.”
What will become of the old Sheetz location once the new facility is built? Sheetz will remove, test and complete any necessary remediation, according to Dinges.
Discussion on concern of neighbors on Montclair Ave. regarding aesthetics. We asked several pointed questions regarding how Montclair Ave. residents will be affected by the presence of the new facility.
Sheetz has gone above and beyond any ordinances to mitigate impact to local residents. Landscaping architects plan to mound the area surrounding the facility so residents have very little visual impact. Evergreens will be planted with a thickness and height so that neighbors cannot see the store. According to Dinges, Sheetz has also moved the entrance away from the residences so the impact is minimized. (Note: As you can see in the renderings, the entrance to the store is directly across the street from Aamco transmissions.)
Residents have voiced concerns over what they describe as “rowdy teenagers” hanging out in the parking lot. Do you have a plan in place to deal with that? Dinges pointed us to a very specific “no loitering” policy adopted by Sheetz. Although the facility provides both indoor and outdoor seating as a complement to what the store offers, from an operations standpoint, they do not allow loitering. The staff is trained to deal with any issues and the property is well lit for safety purposes.
On average, larger Sheetz stores have about 60 cameras both inside and outside of the stores. The security cameras are monitored 24 hours a day by an in-house security operations command. Personnel are constantly looking to monitor those types of situations and they are dealt with appropriately.
Neighbors have cited concerns about children at bus stops and increased traffic in the area. Can you respond? Although Dinges says that Sheetz has met with a neighborhood group, this concern was not presented to Sheetz representatives, to Dinges’ knowledge. “We are unaware of any bus stop issue,” he said. “If there is a legitimate concern that is brought to us, we will certainly come up with a resolution.”
One of the biggest concerns of neighbors is how the lighting will affect them. Your stores are typically very bright. How can you assure neighbors that they will not be impacted by lighting pollution?
Sheetz not only has a lighting plan that meets township ordinances, they actually go above and beyond with a lighting plan that exceeds requirements. While requirements dictate levels of light have to be at a certain brightness for pumping gas, Sheetz is employing a photometric plan designed by lighting consultants that can project LED lighting to precise locations and can control where the light goes. Current requirements state that residential neighbors cannot see a visible light source from 150 feet of a residential property line. With technology that can pinpoint exactly where a light is projected, Sheetz meets and exceeds the ordinance.
Although they did not have the opportunity to present at the public hearing, officials were prepared to show a 360º virtual reality rendering that shows lighting at any angle in a “fly by,” including how it will look at various times during the day.
As you can see in the renderings above, because the gas pumps will be located in the front of the store, with the pinpoint lighting, they will not be a concern to neighbors, nor could it, due to current ordinances.
Neighbors have brought up concerns about drivers who may miss the Sheetz entrance turning around on a dead-end street. Have you considered this issue?
Although Dinges was unfamiliar with this concern, he stated that there was no reason why anyone would miss the entrance to the store. If it became a valid concern, Sheetz would certainly address and remediate any concerns.
Neighbors have cited concerns about alcohol sales. Can you address those issues?
According to Dinges, if the current location can sell beer and wine, they will likely pursue that option. Sheetz currently has 70 stores in Pennsylvania that sell alcohol. Because Sheetz operates a facility with sales of food, it considered to be a “restaurant” and can thus legally sell alcohol. Permits are sometimes hard to come by, though. Either a license has to be transferred to Sheetz or it can be purchased. Regardless of how a liquor permit is obtained, Sheetz must meet very strict criteria from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to be able to sell products that contain alcohol.
Dinges notes that Sheetz is extremely responsible regarding alcohol sales and again goes above and beyond what is required by ID’ing every person regardless of age.
(Editor’s Note: This is no different than how Giant Eagle currently sells alcohol at multiple locations in our area. In addition, there are multiple bars, beer distributors and liquor stores on the Route 19 corridor.)
Neighbors opposed to the new store cite benzene fumes as a potential problem. Can you tell us how gas stations deal with this issue?
Sheetz representatives indicated that there are active systems in place for venting. The EPA limits the percentage of benzene allowed in gasoline to an average of 0.62% by volume (with a maximum of 1.3%). Sheetz not only meets EPA guidelines, they also provide for ventilation of fumes, limiting the impact on the environment of the surrounding area.
(Note: We will update this section shortly. A subject matter expert was not readily available, but Sheetz will be back in contact with Access McCandless to cover this import topic and answer our questions.)
Neighbors have cited possible contamination of well water as a concern. Can you elaborate on what steps Sheetz takes to ensure this does not happen?
Because of new technology available to us today, Sheetz indicates that the likelihood of a release is minute. Dingle pointed out that Sheetz uses state-of-the-art tanks and fueling systems that utilize both double-walled tanks and piping. Many redundant safety features are used, in addition to monitoring. Years ago, there were concerns that a gas leak could create problems with well-based drinking water because single-wall tanks were the norm. Today, however, tanks are manufactured with fiberglass and there are sensors between the walls that are monitored. Any problems that are detected in the sensors are immediately known and the system is shut down automatically, stopping any potential problems.
While the outcome of the requested change in ordinance is pending, Town Council will vote on the measure at the next Regular Business Meeting on July 23, 2018 at 7:30 pm at the McCandless Town Hall. Not only is Sheetz building a new facility, they will be making significant improvements to traffic flow, intersections and signal lights. The new facility and traffic improvements have Sheetz investing approximately $5 million in McCandless Township.
We will be working on another story that involves the potential devaluation of property. In conversations with real estate attorneys and local University experts, however, we have learned that in some situations, establishing retail near residential properties actually increases the value of homes. Because the property has been zoned as residential/commercial for decades, the homes surrounding the area were most likely purchased with the full knowledge that the 3 properties where the Sheetz will be built had the potential for development.
While devaluation of properties immediately adjacent to the new store are a possibility, it is important to note that some of the buildings that Sheetz will demolish are in a terrible state of disrepair and are an eyesore to the community. Superior Pools, in particular, has been cited by many McCandless residents as an eyesore with its outdoor facade in need of serious repair.
Although Sheetz has evidently not been given the opportunity to address any concerns in a public venue offered by Town Council, we felt that it was appropriate to get their side of the story out to the public.
Stay tuned for more on this issue as we delve into the aspect of property valuation.