School officials unanimously approved a resolution on Jan. 19 to send a letter to the Zoning Board of Adjustment opposing that a proposed mini mart be built near Columbia High School.
Developer Ali Enterprises LLC sought permission from the local zoning board last month to build an 1,800-square-foot convenience store that would be open around the clock at the Shell gas station, on the corner of Parker Avenue and Valley Street.
Since municipal ordinances prohibit two principal uses on the same property, the company is seeking a variance. It’s also uncertain if a store open 24 hours a day, seven days a week could operate on that site, town officials said.
The next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 7, where the applicant’s experts are expected to testify.
Because the high school is considered a neighbor of the gas station due to its proximity, the zoning board asked school officials to weigh-in. They agreed to oppose the project, but discussed how their opposition should be presented.
Either they would vote on a resolution opposing the project or vote on a resolution to write a letter to the zoning board encouraging them to deny the applicant's request.
Board President Mark Gleason noted that the school board should address the concerns, such as potential congestion during peak school hours and the congregation of teens and young adults, of the proposal in a letter to the zoning board.
He said a resolution opposing the project may be stepping over the school board’s boundaries.
“It’s a dicey area,” said Gleason. “I don’t feel I am in the position to discount those benefits to our larger community.”
Maplewood resident John Davenport addressed the school board with concerns about the project during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Traffic, pedestrian safety, litter and the availability of unhealthy food choices to students were the reasons why he said the project should be denied.
“The Shell gas station proposal is bad for the whole district, especially Columbia High School,” he said. “Traffic will only get worse, and even dangerous for students.”
School officials noted that the project would bring an additional ratable to town.
However, Davenport said he believes that is a misconception because adding a 7-Eleven-type store near a residential area will lessen residents’ property values.
“There is no net gain for the town,” he said. “In fact, it’s a net loss.”