Despite opposition from members of the public and local business owners, the Effingham City Council effectively approved the Speedway gas station set to be built on Fayette Avenue, next to Comfort Suites, Tuesday night. However, according to Effingham Mayor Jeff Bloemker and City Administrator Jim Arndt the council may not have a had choice on the matter. “When a company comes to town and they fit your zoning code, they fit your zoning code,” Arndt said. “For us to arbitrarily say ‘you know what, you fit our zoning code but we don’t like you company, or your company’s use’ then we could find ourselves in a lot of hot water with the court system.”
Arndt discusses Tuesday’s vote.
Since the property was zoned for commercial use prior to the Speedway Project, the city council’s role is to ensure that it is in compliance with city code, not whether they think it should be built or not. Tuesday’s vote re-platted the property to allow for the project. All five city council members voted to approve the re-platting.
“The city really had no choice in this matter,” said Mayor Bloemker. “People felt like this snuck up on them, but when it’s zoned properly there’s no public hearing.” He suggested that the project was a consequence of Effingham being an “interstate town” that benefits from the commerce of two major highways.
Mayor Bloemker talks about the city council’s role.
Rollin Hills Subdivision residents weren’t satisfied with the decision. The packed city council chamber virtually emptied once the vote to approve the Speedway plat was passed. One resident Karen Cheatum, said she was worried about diesel fumes and traffic from trucks. The re-plating also allows for the small stretch of Rainy Street on the north side of Fayette to be extended to Rollin Hills by future developers. “I’m very concerned that eventually this road will end up in our subdivision and that we end up with a tremendous amount of traffic though there which is completely opposed by the residents,” Cheatum said. Another Rollin Hills resident, Rev. Chuck Cunningham said the gas station would be a “24-hour problem.”
Karen Cheatum expresses her concerns.
Jason Sandschafer and Gene Niemerg spoke on behalf of Niemerg’s Steakhouse citing concerns with traffic and the safety of their customers. “Somebody’s going to get hurt,” Sandschafer said during the meeting. He is worried that trucks stopped at the Raney Street light will prevent Niemerg’s customers from being able to see when they turn onto Fayette from the restaurant. He brought a petition against the project with around 500 signatures.
With Tuesday’s approval, the project can move forward to construction. Speedway declined to respond to our requests for comment.