A driver gases up at BJ’s gas in Manchester on Tuesday. The retailer, which opened in Manchester last year, is facing opposition for the members-only gas station planned for its store in Seabrook.

SEABROOK — Local gas stations and other commercial property owners are challenging the town’s approval of a members-only gas station as part of BJ’s Wholesale Club’s plan for its new store on Lafayette Road.

The town and Needham, Mass.-based Waterstone Retail Development are facing legal action in Rockingham County Superior Court as opponents try to put the brakes on the gas station plan, arguing the planning board and zoning board of adjustment erred in allowing the project to proceed.

A complaint was recently filed by Seabrook Onestop Inc., which operates a gas station at 587 Lafayette Road; Shafra LLC, owner of property at 663 Lafayette Road where a Mobil station operates; ISTAR Inc., which owns commercial property at 652 Lafayette Road; Seabrook Country Stores LLC of 8 Batchelder Road; and Provident Holdings LLC, which owns property at 1 Provident Way.

The complaint said the majority of the plaintiffs either operate or own land upon which gas stations are operated in the Lafayette Road corridor.

Part of the legal battle stems from a 2013 change to a town zoning ordinance requiring that no gas station be built within 1,000 of each other. The change was designed to “prevent excessive concentration of petroleum products that may pose a threat to Seabrook’s vital groundwater resources,” said the complaint filed through Manchester attorney John G. Cronin.

The complaint said the amendment identified 12 grandfathered gas stations, some of which were owned and operated by the plaintiffs.

Waterstone, which proposed the BJ’s, met with the zoning board of adjustment in 2017 seeking variances allowing it to subdivide its lot into two, but it didn’t specify the use of the new lot at the time, the complaint said.

After getting the variances, Waterstone went before the planning board to get the subdivision approved.

When the BJ’s plan was later considered by the planning board last year, the complaint said Waterstone advised the board and the public of its plans to build a gas station on the newly created lot while BJ’s would be located on a separate lot across Lafayette Road.

“The town planner advised planning board members that the gas station could not be on the same lot because of the 1,000 foot restriction under (the zoning ordinance) and the ‘aquifer protection district,’” the complaint said.

Waterstone’s engineer indicated that the distances from the other gas stations to the boundaries of the new lot showed the closest one being 1,024 feet from the boundary of the new lot and the remaining ones being more than 1,200 feet from its boundaries, the complaint said.

The planning board approved the BJ’s plan with conditions that the gas station be for members only, wells within 250 feet be shown on the site plan and that any approvals required by the state Department of Environmental Services be obtained.

The plaintiffs claim numerous errors were made when the plan was approved. Among them, they say the wholesale club and its gas station being located on separate properties violates a town zoning ordinance requiring that any “accessory use” be located on the same premises as the principal use.

“Waterstone did not apply and the town did not grant any zoning relief which would allow the accessory gas station to be located on a separate lot from the wholesale club of which it is a part. Accordingly, the gas station was an illegal accessory use and the ZBA acted unlawfully and unreasonably when it purportedly found that it was not,” the complaint said.

Neither the town nor Waterstone has responded to the newly filed complaint. Their lawyers could not be reached for comment.

Thursday, November 14, 2019