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Planning board: Reject proposed Whitfield gas station

MANATEE — RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.’s plans to put a gas station and convenience store in the Whitfield area hit a bump in the road Thursday.

In what Manatee County Planning Commission members called one of their most difficult decisions, they recommended the county reject the company’s proposal because of traffic and noise concerns.

The advisory board’s recommendation, which now goes to county commissioners for a final decision, pleased more than 40 Whitfield-area residents and business owners at the meeting. They opposed the Atlanta chain’s plans for a 5,000-square-foot store and 24 gas pumps at the northeast corner of U.S. 41 and Pearl Avenue, saying it would cause traffic problems, foster crime and threaten locally owned businesses.

“It’s not fair to the Whitfield community,” said Mike Holderness, who lives and has an office in the area. “This isn’t a good fit for this area at all.”

Neighbors also didn’t like that the store would be open 24 hours a day.

But RaceTrac officials disagreed, saying their proposal would turn an eyesore — a vacant furniture store now sits on the site — into an upscale business that would create 20 to 30 jobs, generate tax money and represent a $5 million investment.

“This is an upgrade. This is an improvement,” said Gordon Schiff, a Tampa attorney representing the company.

Planning board members agree, but fretted that it would come at too great an expense to neighbors.

“Clearly the RaceTrac building would be better than what’s there ... but it’s a messy intersection and a messy location,” said Richard Bedford, the board’s chairman.

Other board members shared his ambivalence, which led to a bizarre sequence:

n A motion to recommend the county deny the proposal died for a lack of a second.

n A subsequent motion to recommend approval failed on a 2-3 vote.

n A third motion, again to deny, passed 4-1 with Mary Sheppard casting the lone no vote.

Also on Thursday, the board recommend the county:

n Rezone 82 acres at the southwest corner of Ellenton-Gillette and Mendoza roads in Ellenton and approve a preliminary site plan for The Paddocks, a proposed 264-home development. Plans call for 152 single-family homes and 112 multi-family units, with at least 26 designated as workforce housing. One neighbor spoke against the project, citing a glut of unsold or unfinished homes in the area.

n Rezone 263.4 acres at the northwest corner of Chin and Old Tampa roads in Parrish and approve a preliminary site plan for Silverleaf, a proposed 621-home subdivision. But two last-minute sticking points — developer Neal Communities wanted to add 24 more lots and build the main road in a different manner than the county prefers — remain unresolved.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.