Gas station design worries some in Old Town Bluffton

cconley@islandpacket.comMay 15, 2013 

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The sign at the intersection of Buck Island and May River roads in Bluffton has boasted for some time that a Parker's gas station is "coming soon."

Just how soon may depend on whether the Savannah-based company can placate residents and members of boards who are not satisfied with the current design.

Parker's has proposed building a 4,700-square-foot store on the 1.72-acre corner lot, less than a mile from Old Town. Space restrictions on the site have led to designs with a single row of seven, double-sided gas pumps under a 185-foot-long canopy.

"From the get-go, it seems to be too many pumps for the area," Doug Hancock, who lives across from the proposed site, said at last week's Southern Corridor Review Board meeting. "I think it's just a little too big and doesn't fit with what's going on."

Thomas Viljac, an Old Town business owner, likened the western outskirts of Old Town to a "blank canvas." Whatever is built there now, he said, could set a precedent that influences future construction.

"We've got a cottage feel in this town, and the canopy is 185 feet long, and it looks like a huge, massive flat roof," Viljac said Tuesday. "It needs some character; it needs to be broken up, and it needs to reflect some of the other characteristics of Bluffton."

Greg Parker, president and CEO of Parker Cos., said capturing that essence is not always easy -- especially when design standards are "subjective."

Parker said the company spent an extra $35,000 creating a new design that matches the Lowcountry architectural style. As for the gas canopy, he said, setback restrictions make a standard-sized canopy, similar to those at other Bluffton stations, impossible on the site without a variance.

"We ... want to do something that is beautiful; we want to build something that will be revered, not just good enough," he said Tuesday. "That being said, we are not going to please everybody. It can't happen. Everyone doesn't like red or blue or green or brown, or whatever."

The project is undergoing simultaneous reviews by Bluffton's Design Review Committee, and the county's corridor review board, which last week tabled the proposal amid the design concerns. The corridor board will reconsider the design May 22.

After those hurdles are cleared, the project will face another round of reviews by at least one more Bluffton board. It's not clear when that review will begin.

Despite the initial concerns, Parker is optimistic residents will back the final design.

"I want people to love what we are going to do," he said. "That is my goal."

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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