FORT MILL, S.C. — Neighbors and parents fighting a proposed gas station in Fort Mill were dealt a setback Tuesday night. The Board of Zoning Appeals voted in favor of the town of Fort Mill, which approved a 7-Eleven store next to Dobys Bridge Elementary. Parents vow to take the town to court.
More than 100 storage units are also expected to be built near their childrens' school, as well.
Channel 9 was the first to report on the controversy in May when neighbors near Dobys Bridge Elementary School first found out what was planned at the corner near them.
At that time, the ground was already cleared and graded and heavy equipment was already preparing for the new store.
Residents quickly mobilized against the proposed store.
They were concerned the development would bring crime and people who might hang out at the store behind their children's school. Homeowners are also worried that the store will affect property values.
Another issue, the potential health threat of gas fumes has raised concerns even higher. Residents feel that the fumes could hurt students and teachers there.
Rick Hayes said he will soon have children at the school.
"If there's a health and safety issue, which this is, the city has every right to stop it," Hayes said.
Kristy Dejesus said she has three children at the school, which is why she moved to Fort Mill from Florida.
"We are the No. 1 school district in the state of South Carolina. Being a former teacher, that is really important to me," she said.
When she learned what was going to be behind the playground at her children's school, she started asking questions.
"As soon as I heard a 7-Eleven, I thought, ‘Is that safe? How close is too close?’" she said.
Neighbors said their research convinced them that 100 yards is too close. They said that cancer-causing benzene and gas fumes will affect the school and cause illnesses.
They organized several protests outside town meetings.
"To me, it was irresponsible that they would do this," Dejesus said.
Fort Mill town leaders have told Channel 9 that the land at that corner was zoned for commercial use long before the school was built and said the development has been approved. Neighbors don't agree with the way that zoning is defined and believe their appeal can stop the project. According to their reading of the law, a gas station is an industrial use and shouldn't be permitted at a site near a school and neighborhoods.
"There is a way to stop this, and we're going to do it," Hayes said.
The original plan for the site did not require a public hearing because no zoning change was needed, which is why neighbors said they learned about the gas station later.
Town leaders said it's too late to scrap the plan.
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