Effingham ZBA to Hear Gas Station Appeal

Effingham—October 11, 2023—Effingham’s Zoning Board of Adjustment will conduct a public hearing to assess whether the Planning Board violated the zoning ordinance when it granted conditional approval for the controversial development’s site plan.

The hearing will be on Wednesday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at Effingham Elementary School.

Residential property owners who abut the former Boyle’s Market site filed an appeal to the ZBA on September 13, saying proposed structures in the plan violate the 50-foot minimum front setback requirement for that location.

A color-highlighted graphic from the site plan shows the proposed gas pumps, diesel pump, diesel canopy, oil-water separator, bioretention basin and other stormwater management structures are all within the required setback zone.

Underground gasoline storage tanks, installed more than two years ago without required local permits and approvals, also appear to violate the setback.

The locations of the structures in question were revised multiple times by the applicant, Meena LLC, to address limitations and operating flaws identified by the Planning Board’s independent technical consultant, North Point Engineering.

The plaintiffs say that none of the changes made by the applicant corrected the setback violations. They say the setback issue was raised to the board in writing prior to the Planning Board’s conditional approval of the plan on July 11.

Article 8 of the town’s Site Plan Review Regulations states that site plans must comply “in all respects” with the town’s ordinances and regulations in order to be approved.

As approved by the Planning Board, critical components of the stormwater management plan—that is, the plan to control the environmental impact of gas station runoff—are located almost directly on top of the lot line with state property that contains wetlands.

In addition to the setback issue, the appeal says the Planning Board “overlooked” the fact that the convenience store violates the ordinance’s 2,000 square feet size limitation.

The appellants say the building, which exceeds 2,000 square feet, lost its grandfathered non-conforming use status after being closed for more than two years, making it an “abandoned use” as defined by the zoning ordinance.

While a store is a permitted use at the site, reopening the existing building would require bringing it into compliance with current ordinance standards.

The appeal brings the case back to the board where the gas station proposal began in March 2021. After a meeting of less than 90-minutes, the ZBA approved a special exception to expand an existing use, pumping gas, that had ceased to exist more than six years prior.

The board additionally failed to recognize that the Groundwater Protection Ordinance prohibits new gas stations at the site.

The applicant subsequently sought a variance to the prohibition, and after two years of contentious hearings and numerous site plan rewrites, the Planning Board conditionally approved the gas station.

Some but not all of the conditions set by the board have been met to date, according to a Planning Board source.

The page https://bit.ly/meenagas has a chronology of the gas station case and access to all documents.

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