Motorists driving down Medlock Bridge, or 141, in Johns Creek are familiar with gas stations at the road's busy intersections with both State Bridge and Abbotts Bridge. But low-key parcels of office space and banks are what they expect to see away from the intersections between State and Abbotts, which follows the city's Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Near those low-key parcels are the entrances to Northview High and Medlock Bridge Elementary schools.
And that's precisely how some nearby residents would like the landscape to remain. However, that may all change if the Johns Creek City Council on Monday approves a rezoning request from RaceTrac to build a 20-pump, 24-hour convenience store at Medlock Bridge and Parsons Road.
"There are citywide concerns," said David Neuringer, a resident of the nearby Glenhurst subdivision and spokesman for the Parsons Road RaceTrac opposition group. "The Comprehensive Land Use Plan says high-intensity uses like gas stations are to be located in 'activity nodes.' This is not an 'activity node.'"
He says the group feels that this is the most important zoning case the city will hear since it formed, as RaceTrac's request asks for a change in Johns Creek's land use plan. Since two adjoining parcels of land are actually in question, the request would also require a change in zoning from residential since one of the properties backs up against a neighborhood off Parsons Road. In fact, RaceTrac's storefront would be located closer to Parsons than Medlock.
"If this is approved it sets a precedence in the city that high-intensity commercial can locate wherever they want," Neuringer argued.
Neuringer added that land use is not the group's only concern. Worries of increased traffic and crime spurred an average of 94 percent of households in eight nearby neighborhoods to sign a petition against the gas station. Those neighborhoods included Glenhurst, located diagonally across Parsons from the site, as well as Glenside, which backs up against the proposed site.
If approved, this RaceTrac location would be the city's biggest gas station as far as number of pumps go.
- Traffic congestion at the Parsons Road Medlock Bridge Road intersection will not improve and may become worse with the gas station at the location.
- By implementing intersection improvements to mitigate expected intersection problems, RaceTrac admits there will be increased congestion.
- U turns from northbound Medlock Bridge Road to enter the gas station will increase, increasing the probability of traffic accidents.
- There will be additional traffic on Medlock Bridge Road and Parsons Road because of "destination" trips soley to the gas station.
- The gas station will cause a “build up” of high school drivers in the morning and after school. There will be no traffic diffusion between the gas station and NHS parking lots resulting in a higher volume of school age drivers on Parsons Road and Medlock Bridge Road.
- The convenience store products will increase Northview pedestrian traffic crossing Medlock Bridge Road, increasing the likelihood of a student being struck.
- The gas station is located at minimum distance requirements to sell alcohol.
- Concerns about safety due to unpatrolled buffer area behind the gas station.
- Convenience stores and gas stations open 24 hours increase the probability of crime, exposing the area to criminal flight issues.
Representatives for RaceTrac, on the other hand, say that the gas station would not increase traffic; rather it would simply take advantage of existing traffic patterns.
"We’ve been working with traffic experts to come up with solutions that will increase flow and reduce congestion on Parsons Road," said Sean MacLaurin, real estate manager for RaceTrac, in an email to Patch. "A continuous right turn lane will be extended an additional 300 feet along Parsons Road that will make it easier to turn south on Medlock Bridge from eastbound Parsons, reducing the wait times for residents who live along this corridor. Left turn lanes for both of our proposed driveways on Parsons Road will prevent traffic delays. Also, our neighbors along Parsons Road will be able to get to our store without dealing with the Medlock Bridge intersection."
He added that increased crime concerns are a "common misconception about convenience stores." MacLauren said the company has a policy of offering free beverages to police officers who stop by, and that those officers will be able to access the store's free Wi-Fi while sitting in the parking lot, which will allow them to continue their work.
MacLauren says he has received positive comments from some residents who like the idea of the store's "market-style" concept for this site, which includes operating like a small grocery store with fresh produce and outdoor seating. He also pointed to a small pocket park of green space that will serve as a buffer between the store and the adjoining neighborhood. If the site plan is approved, the park will be donated to the city at some point in the future.
Neuringer, however, says that the park has also raised concerns among nearby residents, namely that once the park, which is basically a buffer with a detention pond, is handed over to the city, it will then become the taxpayers' burden to maintain. He added that the nearby neighborhoods have enough amenities of their own, and that such a small park with no amenities will not be an attraction.
Meanwhile, both sides appear to be playing nice. Neuringer says that RaceTrac has been easy to work with and appreciates that the company held community information sessions. He said that his group has instructed opposition supporters to remain cordial at Monday's meeting, meaning they have been asked to not wear coordinating colors, to not show up with signs stating their case and to remain polite and abide by meeting rules.
City staff has recommended the council approve the rezoning requests without the gas pumps. The city council meets Monday, Jan. 30, at 7 p.m. at . The agenda also includes a vote on a mayor pro tem as well as appointments to the Board of Zoning Appeals, Planning Commission and Convention & Visitors Bureau.