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A proposal to rezone property in North Little Rock to allow construction of a convenience store was voted down by the city's Planning Commission after several residents showed up at City Hall and voiced their displeasure.

The Planning Commission unanimously voted Tuesday to deny a request by Norman Clifton to rezone property at the northwest corner of North Hills Boulevard and Waterside Drive from residential to commercial to allow for a convenience store with fuel pumps.

The request caught the attention of many residents, who appeared at the meeting and expressed concerns that ranged from environmental issues to noise, crime, a decrease in property values and traffic problems.

A community action group known as Protect North Little Rock organized the protest because of what members called an environmentally dangerous gas station development at the base of a dam.

Tiffanie Nelson, organizer of the protest, said the development would destroy the environment and disproportionately affect minority communities downstream from the site.

Nelson said the proposed convenience store would put 48,000 to 60,000 gallons of gasoline in underground tanks directly beneath a series of dams and a creek that flows into environmental wetlands.

"Those wetlands flow into the neighborhoods of Dark Hollow, Dixie and other neighborhoods downstream from the site," Nelson said in a news release. "The topography of the land shows without question that this will hurt our local environment. Pollution can force people from their homes, close schools and businesses, and it can cost millions to clean up."

Nyle Watson, a recent North Little Rock Little Rock High School graduate and a soon-to-be freshman at Parsons School of Design in New York, said building a convenience store in the spot would be an example of environmental racism. He cited the water crisis in Flint, Mich., as an extreme example of environmental racism but said small things can add up.

"If there was flood and hit this convenience station, then polluted water would flow into minority neighborhoods like Dark Hollow," Watson said. "Something as simple as this can turn into something serious."

Clifton said concerns mentioned by protesters would be addressed by the proper regulatory agencies, and implored the commission to approve the rezoning request in the name of progress. He said the land-use plan had designated the area as commercial property in the past.

"The existing commercial property has to be utilized to help grow the city," he said. "To the east is the only way avenue we can go. We can't go across the river to Little Rock. We can't go west because Maumelle is there. We can't go north because Jacksonville is there. East is all we can do."

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