Bigley zoning changes advance over protests
Zoning and other changes needed by a developer who wants to build a convenience store on Charleston's West Side advanced over objections Tuesday.
Members of the Municipal Planning Commission approved a motion to rezone a residential area on Bigley and O'Dell avenues. The motion passed on a 7-2 vote.
Planning commissioners voted to rezone 1801, 1803 and 1805 Bigley Ave. from residential to commercial use. Also rezoned were 1802 and 1804 O'Dell Ave.
A motion to close Aletha Street, which connects Bigley and O'Dell avenues, also passed on a 7-2 vote.
Local developer James Smith, owner of Big Chimney-based O.V. Smith & Sons, asked that the parcels be rezoned and the street closed.
Charleston City Council will have final say on the changes.
Smith hopes to develop a convenience store on 80,000 square feet of property. He wants to build the store at 1715 and 1719 Bigley Ave., which already are zoned as commercial property.
He needs the other parcels and street for parking, according to the petition on file in the city Planning Department office.
Smith, 78, of Big Chimney, already owns the old Taft Elementary School building and a few houses in the neighborhood. He also has plans to purchase a vacant church and other homes in the area.
If the rezoning and street closure meet final approval, he will contact Sheetz to see if the Pennsylvania-based company would be interested in opening a store at the location.
Smith discussed opening a Sheetz at the location with company officials a few years ago, he said. However, the property he owned at the time was not large enough to accommodate the store.
He emphasized that he hasn't finalized a deal with the convenience store chain.
Dave Alvis, consultant for O.V. Smith & Sons, said the developer would look at other options if a deal with Sheetz doesn't work out.
The measures now go to city council's planning committee, which will make a recommendation to the full council.
About 12 people attended Tuesday's meeting to oppose the project.
Webb Hunt, 43, of South Charleston, owns property in the 1800 block of Bigley Avenue near the intersection with Aletha Street. He also recently moved from the neighborhood to his South Charleston home.
"I grew up in this neighborhood, and I'm not in favor of having a convenience store bumped right up against my property," Hunt said.
He said convenience stores are noisy, and lights also could disturb people still living in the community.
"Super convenience stores do not work well in neighborhoods," he said.
Hunt presented the Planning Commission with a petition containing 75 signatures from neighborhood residents opposed to the project.
He pointed out there are already three convenience stores within a short distance of the neighborhood.
Not everyone in attendance opposed the project.
Jerry Ehman Kaufman lived in the neighborhood for 60 years before moving elsewhere in the city.
She and her brother, Jeff Ehman, still own property in the neighborhood. Both said they were in support of the project.
"I think it will be an improvement in the neighborhood," Kaufman said. "It's been going downhill for years."
The school has been closed for nearly two decades, and the property is an idle eyesore, she said.
Von Ehman, a cousin of Kaufman, lives nearby.
He said he was not necessarily opposed to the project but had concerns about a convenience store being built so close to homes.
His 84-year-old mother would live close to the store, and he worries about how the noise and light would affect her.
"She has to sleep at night," he said.
Smith agreed to place a 6-foot privacy fence between the convenience store and the adjacent properties. He also agreed to meet with residents before the city planning committee meeting on Sept. 24.
"I've been in the retail development business for 58 years, and I haven't ever hurt a neighborhood," Smith said.
Planning Commission board member Danny Scalise cast one of the two votes against the measures.
"I don't think having a Sheetz there will increase property values at all," he said. "And there are a lot of citizens against this."
Board member Teresa Moore, a longtime West Side resident, also voted against the measure.
"And I live in a commercial district and it's not pleasant," she said. "I wouldn't wish that on my neighbors."