What used to be the Chesterfield Hardware store on Chesterfield Airport Road may soon become a U-Gas service station, but the prospect has other gas station owners in the area concerned.
Chesterfield Project Planner Kevin Neill presented the plans to build the new station on a 2-acre tract located near the intersection of Chesterfield Airport Road and Long Road at a meeting of the Chesterfield Planning Commission Monday night. It would be situated on the north side of the road across from the BP/McDonalds and just west of Lou Fusz.
Neill said the site has been vacant since 2007, when a plan to build a Simply Storage unit was presented but never finalized. U-Gas is currently in the process of demolishing the existing structures, but Neill said there are number of issues, such as east-west traffic access, that will need to be addressed before the plan is submitted to the commission for a vote.
Bill Biermann, an attorney representing U-Gas, said it would be the company's 19th location in the St. Louis area. U-Gas is currently in talks with an unnamed fast-casual chain and are hoping to combine the gas station with a drive-thru restaurant.
"They are looking to expand into the Chesterfield Valley because their research has determined it's an underserved market," Biermann said.
Business Owners Voice Opposition
The proceedings Monday night were a public hearing and no actual vote was held, but several Chesterfield residents and business owners stepped forward to voice concern about the project.
Harold Hurlbut, Chad Wallis and Jan Zahiri all own and operate gas station nearby and each said the construction of the U-Gas would threaten their livelihoods.
Zahiri runs the BP directly across from the proposed site and would face the most direct competition.
"We've already got four gas stations," he said. "You are not making the pie bigger, you are just putting people like me out of business because we are not big, we are just a small, family-owned business."
Hurlburt told the city he took pride in the way he runs his station at 17287 Wildhorse Creek Road with a personal touch. At 71, he hopes to retire soon, but claimed that his property, currently valued at $12 million, would "only be worth $1.5 million if this goes through."
Winners and Losers
However, the issue of economic impact on surrounding businesses is actually not something the planning commission is allowed to consider when making its decision under federal and state law, according to Chesterfield City Attorney Rob Heggie.
"The cities don't pick and choose what kind of economic development is going to occur," Heggie told the business owners Monday night. "We can certainly encourage it but at a certain level that is a decision that is left to the free market. The consumers in Chesterfield and the region decide what businesses succeed and fail."
Hagee went on to say that the city's obligation is to make sure that the property is zoned correctly and is being used appropriately. In this case, the parcel is zoned PC for planned commercial, a designation that encourages retail, low-density office and warehouse facilities.