BEDFORD — Residents are urging the Zoning Board of Adjustment to reject variance approvals for Hess Corp. to build a 1,660-square-foot convenience store and 12 self-service, gas pumps on Route 101 and Hardy Road.
About 25 people attended the ZBA’s March 18 meeting, where opponents said the gas station is against a town ordinance that prevents service stations along the commercial zone on Route 101 and told company representatives they should build in the performance zone along South River Road, where such a project is allowed.
The ordinance prohibiting gasoline filling stations has been in effect since 1967, and in 2002 the town conducted a Route 101 corridor study and stressed the exclusion of automotive-oriented uses in the commercial zone.
“The ordinance was designed to steer professional offices, business and retail establishments, restaurants and banks and similar uses into the Route 101 corridor, while steering gas stations and big box stores and fast food drive-thru restaurants into the Route 3 corridor,” said resident Heidi Cole.
Hess Corp. is seeking three variances — to permit a gasoline service station within the commercial zone; to permit a retaining wall, gas pump canopy and monument sign within the 50-foot wetland setback; and to permit a changeable sign.
“Granting the variances will not result in substantial justice to Hess, where it doesn’t even own the property. In contrast, granting the variances will yield a substantial injustice to residents,” said Cole.
She also said the applicant bears the burden of proving the project will not diminish surrounding property values.
“Why is it that Hess, a multi-national corporation with unlimited resources cannot shell out $5,000 for an appropriate study? Perhaps it is because they know what it will say. It will say that the risks of environmental contamination, especially in a town that is served by private wells, risks of criminal activities, traffic and noise, etc., would diminish neighboring properties,” she said.
After hearing testimony from several residents, the board decided to continue the meeting to April 15 because the hearing was running close to 11 p.m. The station, if approved, would be located diagonally across from Hannaford supermarket on a 30,000-square-foot lot.
Bill Tucker, of Wadleigh, Starr and Peters law firm in Manchester; Luke DeStefano, of Bohler Engineering; and Jeffrey Dirk, of Vanesse and Associates, told the board the station is not contrary to public interest, would not alter the safety of the community, would not devalue surrounding properties, would not impact adjacent wetlands, and traffic flow will not be impacted.
Tucker said the station is within the spirit of the town ordinance because it is not a gasoline service station, it is a “fueling facility.”
“Your ordinance prohibits in this zone gasoline service stations. I think it’s important to look at the definition of what a gasoline service station is,” said Tucker. “The key here is supplying goods and services. Everything sold here is at retail. No service is provided, Nobody will change or check your oil. Nobody’s going to check the pressure of your tires. I think the facility should be called a fueling facility. Retail is specifically permitted in this zone. We feel it is consistent with the commercial zone.”
Speaking in favor of the project, resident and town Councilor Jim Scanlon said the opponents have hidden objections — abutters will say “not in my neighborhood, you don’t” and the existing gas stations on Route 101 will say, “not in my wallet, you don’t.” The board also received a few letters in favor of the project from a local real estate broker, an owner of some units at the adjacent Pine Tree Place office park, and an nearby resident.
Resident John VanUden said the decision should not be up to the ZBA.
“This whole section of Bedford was put to the townspeople and it should be put back to the townspeople. If they want to make a change, put it to a town vote next March or beyond. There are 20,000 somewhat people in this town and we need the voice,” he said.
Resident Eric Anderson said the town has been able to maintain its character due to planners, zoners and well-written ordinances, and it would be a mistake to approve the variances and the project.
“It seems to me as a layman that the applicants are essentially creating their own hardship by purchasing or contracting to purchase a piece of land that does not allow gas stations, and are now coming before you guys to build a gas station,” Anderson said.