City BZA approves variances for new gas station/convenience store

An Atlanta, Georgia-based convenience store company plans to open its first Indiana location in Seymour.

The former site of a fuel station at Tipton Street and Cloverleaf Drive just west of the Interstate 65 interchange will be transformed into the site of a 5,500-square-foot RaceTrac convenience store.

RaceTrac has more than 550 stores that are mainly in the southern states.

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Jon Janssen, lead project manager for RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., said the farthest north the company currently goes is Tennessee, but that’s changing with plans for stores in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and Seymour.

He still has to go through the processes of permitting and allocating funds, and then he expects construction on the Seymour store to start in 2021 and opening to be in 2022.

The first step was gaining approval from the Seymour Board of Zoning Appeals on seven variances for the site. He was unanimously granted those 4-0 during a BZA meeting Oct. 27.

The variances on the 1.39-acre site include reducing the minimum front building setback from 40 feet to 30½ feet for the canopy overhang, reducing the required parking stall length from 20 feet to 18 feet and increasing the maximum driveway width from 30 feet to 71 feet.

Janssen said a majority of the site constraints are due to the large right of way. He said there needs to be adequate space for fuel tankers to drop off fuel and for store associates and customers to safely navigate the property.

“The area between Tipton Street and where our property line is, it’s pretty aggressive, and I think that’s just as INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) continues to expand Tipton Street, they need the room,” Janssen said. “So in accommodating that, we need a little bit of relief because our site is so shallow in depth.”

Janssen also received approval for waivers of requirement to provide stacking around the fuel canopy and a landscape buffer along Tipton Street.

Janssen said he had not seen the stacking requirement before, and BZA member Dave Eggers said he doesn’t understand why that’s a requirement. Seymour Building Commissioner Jeremy Gray said it has been in the city’s ordinance for a long time.

With eight dispensers providing 16 fuel positions, Janssen said he doesn’t see there being an opportunity or a need to provide stacking for cars.

“Your more mom-and-pop (stores) where you have only one dispenser or two fueling positions, there might be an opportunity for cars to be backed up in your site,” he said. “We like to think that we know the area and the amount of cars on the road so that the number of dispensers are well thought out so hopefully we don’t have a situation there. We feel like we provide enough circulation around the canopy to offset that.”

The ordinance allows the company to pave up to the property line, but they won’t be able to provide landscaping on a small stretch of Tipton Street because of INDOT’s right of way and the presence of overhead power lines, Janssen said.

“We meet the landscape requirements across the rest of the site,” he said.

The other two variances are related to signage: Increasing the allowable square footage of signage across the site from 200 square feet to 500 and increasing the maximum sign area from 100 square feet to 250.

A lot of that is related to safety, too, Janssen said.

“As you’re traveling down the road, we feel like a 75-square-foot sign out in the front provides the adequate visibility for the driver to make a safe maneuver to get over into a turn lane or to come into our site,” he said.

The 250-foot max on the latter variance is so an interstate sign can be placed on the property, he said.

“The property currently enjoys a large apparatus that once had an interstate sign, and through talking with the city, we asked if we could put another interstate sign up there,” Janssen said.

Janssen also shared a brief history of the company. He said the family-owned corporation started in 1934. At that time, it was known as Carl Bolch Trackside Stations and based in Missouri.

In 1967, Bolch’s son became chief executive officer, and after pioneering the concept of self-service gasoline in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the company relocated its headquarters to Atlanta in 1976 and adopted the RaceTrac brand.

In 2004, RaceTrac introduced its fresh food offering with a variety of sandwiches, wraps, salads, fruit and more. Then in 2012, the convenience stores added frozen yogurt, a coffee bar and indoor and outdoor seating.

“We really put an emphasis and focus on that fresh food, yogurt, pizza and extensive coffee bar options,” Janssen said.

The Seymour store also would be open 24 hours and have truck and diesel capabilities.

Janssen said RaceTrac is the second largest privately held company in Georgia and is consistently voted a top workplace in every major market in which it operates.

“Each RaceTrac location employs 20 to 25 corporate employees that have advancement opportunities,” he said. “There are several store associates that through the course of time will get promoted and could potentially work at the store support center in Atlanta, Georgia, where I currently work.”

Gray and the board members expressed their appreciation to Janssen.

“We wanted them to get the size store that they want on the site,” Gray said. “My opinion, what they are asking for is not out of line, and it’s an empty site now, and I’d like to see a new building.”

BZA member Jim Myers said he appreciated the detail Janssen put into his presentation and accompanying handout, noting it made the board’s job of approving the proposal easier.

BZA President John Richey agreed.

“This is a very nice proposal, very nice looking building and that site definitely needed to be upgraded,” he said.

Eggers made the motion to approve, Myers seconded and it unanimously passed. Board member Rob Kaufman was absent.