Possible compromise surfaces in gas station zoning debate

Local News

A Fort Wayne councilman is saying there are too many gas stations on the city’s Southeast side. He has said this for years, but is now proposing newzoning legislation to lessen the rate and manner in which they’re built there.

District 6 councilman Glynn Hines presented his proposal at a Fort Wayne Planning Commission public hearing Monday night. He wants to change the zoning laws for gas stations.

Currently, gas stations can only be built in commercial, shopping center, and industrial zones, but developers are allowed to build elsewhere under a “special use” exception if they can persuade the Board of Zoning Appeals for approval. 

Hines’ proposal is to get rid of the “special use” exception. Several representatives from the area’s gas station industry were at the zoning meeting to counter him.

“I only had opposition from the pigs, from the folks who are gobbling up the money from the neighborhoods,” Hines said. “They’re making 30 to 40 thousand dollars a month. So they could care less about the health of the neighbors. So they’re just trying to make a profit margin.”

He calls their prices predatory and demands his residents get full-service grocery stores instead of convenience stores.

“They’re selling food like fried fish, fried chicken, fried potatoes, everything is fried and it’s not healthy,” he explained. “That’s my concern. They say people are voting with their footsteps and they’re buying this stuff, but that’s because there’s nothing else close by.”

Lassus Brothers Oil Vice President of Real Estate and Development Sam Schenkel said they empathize with Hines, but the number of gas stations they build is market driven.

“It’s not really my job to discern or Lassus’ job to discern how many there are or aren’t in any particular area,” he said. “It’s really market driven. Any developer, Lassus or otherwise, would never go into a situation or a new area if they did not feel it was going to be a viable business opportunity.”

Jim Burns, President of Burns Builders has developed convenience stores with gasoline in Northeast Indiana for 36 years, including Lassus Brothers Oil, McIntosh Oil, National Oil and Parish Oil. He said the gas stations are being “picked on.” 

“It’s not that there’s not problems with dealers in the 6th district, there probably are but to blanket our entire industry in the city because there might be a few bad players in the 6th district I think is a mistake,” he said. “They haven’t taken away the ‘special use’ from anybody else. All the other industries you can think of, you can still do that but not the gasoline.”

He said if they lose their special use privilege to city council’s vote on Hine’s proposal, their business will now become political.

“It will now sit in the hands of elected politicians,” he explained. “The city council will rule instead of the Board of Zoning Appeals who’s appointed. So it becomes political.”

The gas station advocates expressed a willingness to work with Hines.

“I would like the opportunity to negotiate and see what we can come up with,” Burns said. “Can we put the right kind of food in the stores for them? I think all the principals were here to talk about that. Maybe we can make the 6th district off limits for new development.”

Hines said he can strongly consider that idea, allowing them to build gas stations everywhere but the 6th district. If they’re to be built there, only where it’s properly zoned he explained. He just wants the Southeast side to be healthier.

“High blood pressure, diabetes, infant mortality at one the highest in the state of Indiana in those neighborhoods,” he said. “So until you get fresh foods, healthy eating, you’re going to have this same old health issues with the diseases.” 

Hines and the gas station advocates will be in talks the rest of this week. The Planning Commission reconvenes on Monday to put together their recommendation for city council.

Hines’s goal is to have the proposal enacted in April.

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