At a recent City Council meeting in Stonecrest, residents were up in arms about the plans for a gas station and convenience store in a wooded, residential area. But the mayor has an unconventional solution: He wants to buy the land and turn it into a park instead.
Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary said he made an agreement with the land owner for the city to purchase the 8.8 acres of land on the corner of Evans Mill and Salem roads for $325,000. He hopes to use it for park space instead.
The tract of land is zoned for commercial development, and a building application permit for the gas station has already been approved by the city’s Community Development Department. But residents and city officials agreed a gas station is not the right fit for that corner, which is surrounded by woods and subdivisions. It’s also a notoriously unsafe intersection, Lary said in an interview.
“I’ve lived off that road for 30 years. That corner has been bad for 30 years,” he said, adding that the land purchase would give the city the opportunity install a traffic light or roundabout at that corner.
The mayor said he hopes the park will eventually become a community botanical garden.
The uproar surrounding the project, however, is just the latest example of frustration from residents over a perceived lack of transparency on building projects in DeKalb County’s newest city.
“It’s a lot of confusion … We kind of found out after the fact,” said Doris Johnson, the president of the homeowners association for three nearby subdivisions. “When we did find out it was like, ‘No, no, no, no, no.’”
Johnson said Councilman George Turner, who represents the area, told residents about the development at a town hall meeting several weeks ago.
Just a mile and a half up Evans Mill Road, neighbors are fighting the building of a cell tower that went up in mid-January, while records suggest the tower may have violated zoning laws. Neither the cell tower nor gas station projects required public hearings for neighbors or City Council approval.
Lary said he hopes to change that process in the future. He also stressed that the gas station building application was a legal use of the land, which is zoned commercial and therefore didn’t require City Council approval.
“We’re not revoking the permit,” he said. “We’re just buying the land.”
Lary made the announcement at a public meeting Monday night; he said the City Council will vote on the purchase at next Monday’s meeting.
According to Stonecrest zoning records, the land is currently owned by Grayson, Ga.-based Evans More Properties, Inc., which could not be reached for comment Monday.
Johnson was one of several Stonecrest residents who spoke out against the proposed gas station at last Monday’s City Council meeting. After an impassioned period of public comment, Lary said he hoped to find out “where do we need do to go to make it stop.”
Turner said he fought construction in that same location about 18 years ago.
“We are not anti-development. We are looking for a complementary development that fits the community and a convenience store and gas station is simply not a fit,” he said in a statement.
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A few days after the City Council meeting, Lary and Turner took a trip to the site, which now features a “No Gas Station!” sign.
“There are many, many concerns,” said Renee Cail, who lives less than a quarter of a mile from the corner. “Underground tankers are not good … That is not gonna help the community at all.”
There is a stream located near the land, and it’s across the street from the Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve. Cail and others are also worried about the traffic it would bring to winding Evans Mills Road. Lary called the intersection a “death trap.”
Currently, the nearest gas station to the corner is about 2 miles away, on the busier, more commercial Panola Road.
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