RaceTrac planning large gas station at Lake Sarasota's Entrance
On Wednesday, November 7 several members of the Lake Sarasota Community Group and the Bee Ridge Neighborhoods Committee met with Tom Hardy, project manager of RaceTrac gas stations for Southwest Florida.
Mr. Hardy confirmed that the privately-owned RaceTrac Corp., which is based in Atlanta, is “rolling out aggressively” in Florida. Over the next few months the company plans to open 30 new gas stations around the state. While most Floridians are familiar with the current RaceTrac format, these 30 stores will use a new design sporting a substantially larger footprint.
An example of the current design is found on Fruitville Rd., just west of I-75. That station has a 5,000-square-foot footprint for its store. The new models will have a 6,000-square-foot floor plan.
New, Larger Format
The new stations will have 24 pumps, open 24 hours a day. The larger structure will enable RaceTrac to offer a broader variety of foods, including hot dogs, sodas, burritos, chicken parmesan, quesadillas, yogurt, a “barista” area, and a window bar that will have outlets for laptops and free WiFi. To serve those who will make use of these services, the plan calls for 35-40 parking spaces, up from 25-30 at the older models.
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RaceTrac has applied to build one of these new, larger stations on the Northeast corner of N. Mauna Loa Blvd. and Bee Ridge Rd. The land site plan is roughly 90,000 square feet (300’ x 300’) -- a bit more than two acres. The current layout calls for drivers to access the service station from N. Mauna Loa Blvd. The company is seeking a cut in the median on North Mauna Loa to enable cars to leave the station and turn left to return to Bee Ridge Rd.
The station’s building will reach a height of 27’ feet and the plan calls for a 60-square-foot monument sign placed on Bee Ridge at North Mauna Loa facing West and East.
Landscaping: Currently a low hedge and a few trees are planned along the swale on Bee Ridge.
Community representatives at the meeting expressed the hope that the station would prove a positive convenience for the Lake Sarasota Community, whose 1,600 homes, some of which are on Bee Ridge across from the planned station, are likely to be regular customers of the store and gas station.
The concerns raised by those present can be grouped into three categories:
1. Traffic: Such a large, bright, busy station directly across from the main entrance to Lake Sarasota will impact the primary intersection at the entrance. The station is bound to attract trucks and cars from the highway as well as local customers. To accommodate a heightened volume of traffic going into and out of the station, the signal at Mauna Loa and Bee Ridge will have to be timed to give north-south traffic, which is now minimal, more time. Traffic will be slowed in all directions at the intersection. Expect getting in and out of Lake Sarasota to take longer.
2. Buffering: The glare, noise, and odors from such a large, active presence in a locale that until now has been essentially quiet at night will especially affect Lake Sarasota residents with homes near Bee Ridge and Mauna Loa. Members of both committees stressed to Mr. Hardy the importance of increasing buffering vegetation along Bee Ridge -- a higher hedge, for instance, and more canopy trees. Mr. Hardy, whose background is as an arborist, said he would explore putting in "high rise live oaks" instead of the palm trees which were in the original plan.
3. Excess capacity: Area residents also noted that Bee Ridge Road east of I-75 is quite different from Fruitville Road at the highway. There you can find substantial shopping centers with “big-box” stores, restaurants, banks and supermarkets. Bee Ridge east of the Interstate, on the other hand, offers little other than bedroom communities, churches, and nursing home and healthcare facilities. Does it make sense for RaceTrac to build bigger in this quiet and largely residential part of Sarasota, residents asked, noting that when Publix decided to put a market at Bee Ridge Extension, it chose a smaller footprint. And, it was asked, does the gas station need such a large sign?
Mr. Hardy noted that RaceTrac only builds on roads where it can rely on a minimal volume of 20,000-25,000 cars a day. The station will have the largest sign the zoning code for our area allows, he added.
Mr. Hardy indicated he'd not been aware that the County is moving ahead with plans to widen Bee Ridge Road from the highway to Bent Tree, using a “low-impact development” plan that will give Bee Ridge the character of a parkway with wide buffering on both sides, along with heritage trees, meandering sidewalks, bio-swales, attractive vegetation and fencing. He indicated that RaceTrac will look at the timing, and might consider moving up its construction date to be complete before the road widening begins.
The earliest the County will start on its widening is October, 2013. RaceTrac could be open for business by July 2013, Mr. Hardy said, but the actual construction date has yet to be nailed down.