Scattered throughout the streets of Atlantic Beach are yard signs reading, “No Gate Mega Station in Atlantic Beach! Save Our City!” What’s the deal? Why are residents rallying against a gas station and why is Beach Diner leading the way?
The battle quietly began in 2014, when Gate Petroleum Company bought a 1.8-acre property on Atlantic Boulevard, adjacent to Beach Diner. Shortly after the purchase, Gate began plans on building a 10-pump station with a 6,500-square-foot, 24-hour convenience center.
Residents in the surrounding area raised concerns that the station would create air and light pollution, increase litter and traffic in the neighborhood, bring in crime and tarnish the area’s image. Additionally, Beach Diner expressed concerns that the gas station would cut into the restaurant’s already limited parking and its profit. Portions of the Atlantic Beach building code also state commercial developments that negatively impact the surrounding neighborhood will not be permitted.
Ultimately, both the diner and opposing residents believe the city approved the permits for Gate, whose president is former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton, inappropriately. Opponents also cite the apparent cherry picking of provisions cited in the permit.
The dispute resulted in a 13-hour public meeting held by the Atlantic Beach Commission. After hearing from 60 speakers, the commission decided it made no errors in issuing the permit.
Although the decision by the commission nearly ends the fight to stop construction, battles continue to flare.
During the permit approval process, the city granted Beach Diner 30 parking spaces. Despite an increase from the originally granted 19 spaces by Gate, who is now the property manager of the shopping center Beach Diner is located in, the diner claims it is entitled to nearly double that amount.
In 1997, the diner built an addition to its property, requiring it to meet several code requirements — including parking. The code stated Beach Diner was required to have one parking space for every two seats. The diner, which has 101 seats, would therefore be given 51 parking spaces to meet code requirements.
In light of the city’s negotiations with Gate to grant Beach Diner 30 spaces, legal representation from the diner states the city over-stepped what should have been a matter between landlord and tenant. Additionally, Beach Diner’s attorney states the space designation violates the code requirements the restaurant expanded under.
The gas company has not begun construction of its station or store and still needs to clear the land of its current shopping center. This hasn’t slowed down residents in the area from showing discontent. In addition to signs and speaking at town hall meetings, a group called Atlantic Beach Cares has emerged.
The group has started an online petition against the gas station, generated a social media campaign to spread awareness and encouraged citizens to express their concerns to both local politicians and media outlets. A Facebook page started by the group in 2015, has over 1,050 likes and posts information about public meetings regarding the construction.