7-Eleven plan faces opposition

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Posted July 8, 2021 | By Carlos Medina, carlos@ocalagazette.com

The application for a beer and wine permit for a proposed 7-Eleven convenience store almost stopped the Ocala City Council in its tracks.

During their July 6 meeting, the request left council members at a loss for words as no one seemed eager to move the request forward for consideration. Despite the hesitancy, the council eventually voted unanimously to grant the alcohol permit to sell beer and wine.

The reason for the reluctance: The planned store proposed near the southeast corner of the intersection of Maricamp Road and Southeast 25th Avenue has faced vocal resistance from residents of Woodland Villages, located near the southwest corner of the same intersection.

After discussing their options, Councilman Matt Wardell made the motion to take up the application. Councilman Jay Muslesh seconded the motion.

Several residents of Woodland Villages urged the council to deny the application, arguing the convenience store would cause traffic congestion, encourage the use of alcohol and tobacco and remain open 24-hours.

“In our view this is the wrong store, in the wrong place, at the wrong time,” said Eric Heyden, one of the residents attending the meeting.

But Fred Roberts an attorney representing the property owner, RM Maricamp LLC, said the alcohol permit was a preliminary step and the city would still have to approve the design and construction of the convenience store. He also pointed out that the current zoning for the property is appropriate for a convenience store.

Several residents argued a proposed entrance and exit into the convenience store off Southeast 25th Avenue would snarl traffic, making it dangerous for resident to enter their community.

Roberts said the preliminary design for the convenience store calls for the main entrance to be off Maricamp Road. The entrance would serve traffic from both directions on Maricamp.

He also said traffic studies show the store would not increase traffic dramatically.

“(Convenience stores) are not destinations, they are transit trips. They are people driving by anyway,” he said.

While several councilmen openly empathized with Woodland Villages residents, they deferred to the propriety of the request.

“Realistically, how do you deny this when literally, across the street there are two locations that sell alcohol? How does that cognitive dissonance work?” Wardell asked referring to a convenience store and restaurant located on the north side of Maricamp.

City Attorney Patrick Gilligan said the council could deny the permit if there was evidence that it was incompatible to the public health and welfare, but short of that a denial could open the city to a lawsuit by the property owners.

Tye Chighizola, director of growth management for the city, said the rapidly growing area of Maricamp will require the city to address the long-term traffic issues of the corridor regardless of the final decision on the 7-Eleven.

In 2015, the council denied a plan to build a neighborhood Walmart on part of the same property after similar complaints by Woodland Villages residents. But those plans were for 14 acres, not the 3 acres proposed for the convenience store. Also, the Walmart would have been a 42,000-square-foot store. Most modern convenience stores are about 5,000 square feet.

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