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Thursday, September 18, 2014, 8:46 a.m.
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LR gas station OK'd on 6-5 vote

Neighborhood groups oppose use for ex-Brandon House lot

By Cammie Bellamy

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 4:40 a.m.

Murphy USA will move forward with plans for a gas station and convenience store at the corner of West 12th Street and South University Avenue after a narrow vote of approval by the Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday evening.

Murphy, based in El Dorado, proposed a 3,445-square-foot business that includes 24 gas pumps and vacuum and propane stations, and that will be 300 feet from the entrance to the University Park neighborhood. Although the original proposal called for a 24-hour business, the board approved a change that would cut the store's daily operating hours to 19.

The site has been vacant since Brandon House Furniture closed in 2004 -- that store's former building and an adjacent structure were demolished last year.

The board was divided on the issue, eventually voting 5-5 on Murphy's request: City Directors Joan Adcock, Erma Hendrix, Ken Richardson, Brenda Wyrick and Vice-Mayor Doris Wright voted against approval; City Directors Brad Cazort, Gene Fortson, Lance Hines, Stacy Hurst and Dean Kumpuris supported it.

Mayor Mark Stodola was the tie-breaking sixth vote in favor.

Tuesday was not the first time the proposal has gotten a mixed response. On June 26, the city's Planning Commission voted to approve Murphy's application even after planning staff had recommended denying it and said that locating the business near the neighborhood's entrance was "inappropriate," according to town documents.

Nearly two dozen neighborhood residents attended Tuesday's board meeting, passionately voicing concerns about potential traffic congestion, light and noise from the business. Some said they fear that a gas station will encourage late-night loitering and take crime to the edge of the neighborhood.

The meeting was occasionally heated; at one point, Stodola admonished attendees who held up small signs opposing the business.

"The board is well aware of the issues here, and I think to try and sensationalize it is an inappropriate thing in the decorum of this building," he told the crowd.

Wayne Gibson, a Murphy representative, said the convenience store would mean good economic development for the neighborhood, creating 11 to 15 jobs and generating significant tax income for the city and state.

Gibson also said Murphy wants neighbors to know that their concerns are being heard. During the meeting, he told the board that the company was willing to change its original plan to have the store open 24 hours a day, instead having it open between 5 a.m. and midnight. The board later approved a motion to change the business's planned operating hours in line with Gibson's offer.

"We're pleased with the decision of the council tonight, and we look forward to doing more business here in Little Rock," Gibson said after the meeting. "We're still working on the final plans to submit to the city and going through the permitting process ... We're looking forward to being here in Little Rock, and we feel like we're bringing a quality product to this market."

But neighbors of the site said this is not the kind of investment they want. Pamela Powell, a resident who spoke at the meeting, said she knew of six gas stations within a mile of the site, including a Shell station directly across 12th Street.

"The light pollution, increased noise and increased traffic will greatly deteriorate the quality of life in our area," she said. "We don't need this additional traffic tearing up our streets -- we do not have sidewalks, and this would also be dangerous."

But Gibson said the business would not attract new traffic to the area, instead drawing on the 37,000 vehicles he said University Avenue sees daily and the more than 100,000 on Interstate 630.

"We're not creating that traffic; it's already out there," he said.

Shawn Camp of the Point O'Woods Neighborhood Association said neighbors want to see the site developed, just not in this way. He said residents had been in touch with businesses such as Trader Joe's and Applebee's to encourage them to look at the site.

"The intersection at 12th and University is the gateway to our neighborhood; how that location is built will set the tone for future development," he said. "I doubt a new gas station will improve the lives of residents sufficient to outweigh the noise, the light pollution, the traffic and crime that it will bring to their backyards."

After the vote, resident Scott McCalman said he hadn't anticipated the board's decision.

"I'm very disappointed in the result for this; I thought that the case was presented for the residents of several neighborhoods and the results aren't what we wished for," he said. "It seemed like all of the arguments were in our favor, and I'm very surprised in the results tonight."

In the coming weeks, the board will also hear a proposal for a hotel to be located next to the Murphy station. McCalman said neighborhood residents would be out again to fight the proposal.

Metro on 08/06/2014

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mhck52 says... August 6, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.

Restaurants won't cause any problems, yeah right. They just want vacant lots.

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