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CROWN POINT — The Board of Zoning Appeals on Monday passed to the City Council an unfavorable recommendation for a special use to allow Family Express to operate a gas station and convenience store at the northwest corner of Ind. 55 and Burrell Drive, also known as 125th Avenue.

The City Council will have the final say on the controversial proposal at its March 5 meeting, which, like the BZA meeting, is expected to draw a packed audience of concerned residents. 

A standing-room-only crowd listened as representatives for Family Express stated their case for a special use to operate what would be their fifth store in Crown Point. 

About 20 residents among that crowd spoke against the plan during the public hearing. They included Crown Point High School Principal Chip Pettit, representing Crown Point Schools. Crown Point High School is near the proposed site for the gas station.

"We have safety concerns about a gas station being placed at this corner," he said. 

Pettit said they regularly deal with long lines of traffic along 125th Avenue that stretch from the high school to the intersection at Burrell both before and after school. 

Pettit said that despite planned road improvements along Burrell in the summer of 2019 that may help, school officials think the intersection is dangerous. He echoed the concerns of several BZA members about moving forward on a gas station without fully understanding the impact of those future road improvements. 

"We feel placing a gas station at this site will undoubtedly increase the student foot traffic going toward the intersection," Pettit said.

"We try our best to be good neighbors to residents in the area. We believe this will not help our relationship with our neighbors if over 2,700 high school students will now have reasons to walk east along 125th Avenue in addition to walking west toward Main Street and north toward the neighborhood. 

"We don't believe that anyone living or working in this area believes that building a gas station on this site is a good idea."

Sam Barloga, a 2016 graduate of Crown Point High School, said his mother lives near the proposed development and the amount of kids who come out of school every day into that neighborhood "is a mess." He has concerns about traffic in the area, especially when school begins and ends.

"This project may be able to go forward and be voted on again at a later time when those changes are made on 125th, but at this point I think it is dangerous to move forward with the current proposal," he said. 

Family Express counters concerns

Richard Anderson, the attorney representing Family Express, said the gas station would not be a traffic generator. 

"We are there, and people stop because they need gas," he said. "It is not a destination."

Anderson brought in experts who spoke about concerns such as tank leakage, because many residents in the area use well water. One official said Family Express goes beyond standard tank-storage requirements, and has more than the required tank walls.

Frank Odar, an independent appraiser used by Family Express, looked at properties in a half-mile radius of the Family Express farther north at the intersection of Indiana Avenue and North Street, and said there is no negative impact on value. He said lofts are selling in the $200,000 to $300,000 range across the street from that Family Express. 

In the end, the board voted 4-1 on the unfavorable recommendation. Board member John Marshall said the gas station would be a distraction and not a good idea at this time.

Alda Veluttini cited concerns about the environment and student safety in voting against the plan. Christoper Meyers and Nick Nochevich also voted for an unfavorable recommendation. Dan Rohaley was the sole vote against the unfavorable recommendation. 

This is not the first time residents have fought against a proposed gas station at that location. There were plans for one in 2011 and 2014, and each time the plans were withdrawn. 

The City Council meeting on March 5 begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 101 N. East St.


Lake County reporter

Rob covers urban affairs and other matters in Crown Point, St. John, Winfield and beyond. Previously he covered Valparaiso, Hammond, Gary and East Chicago. He's also written for various magazines and pens a culture blog for The Times.