A tie vote Monday nixed an appeal of a Planning & Zoning Commission decision to allow a gas station project some residents oppose.
Cape Coral City Council's 4-4 deadlock clears the way for a convenience store/gas station on the corner of Skyline and Cape Coral Parkway.
Debate was heated, spanning more than four hours and including accusations of scare tactics and possible racial bias.
In the end, residents of Skyline Waterways, a civic association that had fought the construction of the convenience store/gas station, were left unhappy after the deadlock killed their appeal to make the gas station component, at the least, go away.
Disappointment was compounded because some thought the controversial component had been pulled after reports the developer had decided not to include the gas station as part of the final plan
City council also expressed some displeasure at seeing that component was back but Dan Creighton, speaking for the project, explained by saying he was following instructions provided.
Some on council were no happier with the association's case, which they said while lengthy, was weak on evidence and infused with what some saw as "scare tactics."
Residents were looking to reverse a September decision by the Planning and Zoning board of appeals to allow a special exception for a gas station in this quasi-judicial hearing, as well as a variance for seven feet for a rear setback on the building.
Skyline Waterways spokesperson Tom Kotowski presented council the presentation on why their appeal should be passed, presenting 33 pieces of evidence the group said showed how the area would be perceived if the station was put there, and data regarding accident and crime rates.
"Skyline and Cape Coral Parkway is the gateway into our community. Putting it at our front door causes great consternation," Kotowski said. "Convenience stores are a magnet for urban blight and increased accident rates."
Kotowski held the 7-11 on Cape Coral Parkway and Palm Tree as an example, saying there were a reported 4,703 police calls to that one location.
Those supporting the project, however, said many of those calls were routine stops.
Kotowski also said the area is too small for a gas station and too intense for the .63 acre site.
But other residents took a different view.
During lengthy public comment, property owner Paul Kleeman said Skyline residents would be the first to complain after a hurricane hits if there was no gas, which drew catcalls from the gallery.
"You're all scared. It was the same with Wal-Mart. When I see this, it makes me sick," Kleeman said.
"The fear is aesthetics. The city needs to raise the bar. Are we going to have this every time we have a 7-11 or gas station because they don't want it in their backyard?" resident Dan Sheppard asked.
Things got more heated when developer Dan Creighton took to the podium with a flyer denouncing the gas station that included pictures of several black men in front of a convenience store, presumably to show a criminal element by some opposed to the project.
Mayor John Sullivan called a recess to let things cool down, but the bad feelings lingered as barbs continued from the audience for the rest of the debate.
Councilmember John Carioscia motioned to approve the appeal, with Kevin McGrail seconding it.
When it was council's turn, both sides of the divided board weighed in.
Councilmember Marty McClain said he appreciated the presentation "but it was found on the internet. Nobody knows what will happen. You're making crystal ball assumptions."
McGrail explained his second by saying Creighton had promised when the land was rezoned in 2011 that it would be a great location for a Starbucks or Chase bank.
"You said no gas station, and I'm holding you to that. I heard the residents' complaints. They don't want a gas station you have to shoehorn in," McGrail said.
Ultimately for McClain and Rana Erbrick, it was what they said was a matter of the law. The Planning and Zoning Commission had given it the green light in September and the board had to trust its judgment unless the evidence clearly showed otherwise..
The vote went 4-4, with Erbrick, McClain, Lenny Nesta and Derrick Donnell saying no around 11:30.
Council then voted 5-3 to formally deny the appeal.
There was also a companion resolution regarding the variance, where city council also denied the appeal unanimously.