Planning board denies proposed RaceTrac gas station, truck fuel stop

Horse Farms Forever led the opposition to the project in the county’s Farmland Preservation Area.

Racetrac proposal

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Posted November 29, 2023 | By Belea Keeney

In the face of strong community opposition, the Marion County Planning & Zoning Commission has recommended denial of an application for a RaceTrac gas station, convenience store and truck fuel stop at the corner of County Road 329 and U.S. 441.

About 25 members of the public, including neighbors and representatives of Horse Farms Forever, attended the Nov. 27 P&Z meeting to oppose the project. County staff also reported receiving more than 30 letters of opposition.

The vote to deny was 4-1. The application next goes before the Marion County Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 19.

Horse Farm Forever’s concerns were presented by its president, Bernie Little. The group provided a full-color handout with detailed slides regarding the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code. The proposal, the group wrote, is “fundamentally flawed.”

A key element of the applicant’s proposal was the change in zoning from agricultural to Rural Commercial, an unusual classification. Rural Commercial zoning is used for parcels that are agriculture related and appropriate on rural lands. Typical uses would be a farm with a produce stand or a feed store.

The HFF presentation stated, “The use does not meet the requirement to use the Rural Commercial classification,” and violates the Comprehensive Plan and land development codes. Additionally, the group said, the applicant failed to meet the burden of proof and the “commission should recommend denial.”

An additional reason for denial was focused on the parcel’s location squarely within the Farmland Preservation Area. County policy requires that zoning changes in the designated area “preserve, protect, support and enhance” the farmland character of the FPA. A gas station, staffers argued, does not meet that standard.

Public opposition included concerns about students attending nearby North Marion Middle School or North Marion High School being too close to potential problems at the convenience store. Meadowlands residents in the neighborhood off U.S. 441 expressed worry about the additional traffic, pointing out that the intersection is already dangerous and more traffic would create more problems. One speaker pointed out that with the Sunoco and the Circle K gas and convenience stores already on the east side of the intersection, there was “no need” for another gas station in the area.

Attorney Rob Batsel, representing the property owner, suggested a “Section 163” developer’s agreement to restrict the development on the parcel, but that idea was rejected by county staff and the board.

Board member Danny Gaekwad spoke in favor of the Farmland Preservation Area and told county staff to “stand your ground” with regard to future incursions into the area and prevent urban sprawl.

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