It’s almost all over but the permitting before Palm Coast’s BJ’s Wholesale Club, a big gas station and a half dozen satellite stores begin going up on a 31.5-acre site of State Road 100, just west of Seminole Woods Boulevard.
Cornerstone at Seminole Woods, as the development is called, sits opposite Tom Gibbs Chevrolet, from the boundary with the RaceTrac gas station to the east, to just west of McCormick Drive. The development includes all the land currently used by Flagler Pines RV Storage, which will no longer be there. The main entrance will be from State Road 100 opposite McCormick (the entrance to the Madison Green apartment complex).
The Flagler County Planning Board in a series of votes this week approved the site plan for the box store’s 103,000 square foot imprint, also approving regulatory waivers that will allow the site to have more signs and different setbacks than ordinary, eliminate 7 acres of wetlands, have 420 parking spaces, and a new, signalized turning lane off SR100 that the developer will pay for. The County Commission still has to approve the same actions, but that’s expected to be more of a ratification than anything contentious.
The shopping center will feature an eight-island gas station open to members of BJ’s club, including diesel fuel, adjacent to the existing RaceTrac at the intersection of state Road 100 and Seminole Woods Boulevard.
When does construction start? “I anticipate it’ll be fairly soon, but I know there are still some permitting requirements they need to go through,” Flagler County Planning Director Adam Mengel said today. It will likely be before the end of the year. “All around that’s what we’re expecting to happen.”
There was not a single public comment on the four related items the county planning board voted on last Tuesday. More notably: there were few questions from the four planning board members, some of whom at times looked bored. There was a procedural question, and a question about Palm Coast’s impending annexation of the property, and what that would mean for regulatory demands. Each item got a 4-0 vote. But it was nothing particularly new to them: the planned development has been going through regulatory steps at the county since a rezoning last November. “We’ve been putting them through the meat grinder,” Mengel said of Matthew Development LLC, which has developed BJ’s, Wawa, Target, and many other such stores.
Still, site-planning is the first public opportunity to see firsthand the impact of a development. The impacts will not be small.
A traffic analysis by LTG Engineering and Planning conducted for the developer concluded that BJ’s development and its companion stores would generate a total of 8,000 daily car trips, with BJ’s accounting for more than half of those. There would be 257 a.m. peakhour and 403 p.m. peak-hour trips.
The vast parking lot will be illuminated by 25-foot box-type lamp posts. “They’re wanting to make sure that it’s safe, not only for their their customers, but also for their employees,” Mengel said. “We don’t want nefarious things happening where dark areas are.”
The 103,000 square foot BJ’s itself will be set back to the rear of the property, and will have an attached liquor store. The companion stores on so-called outparcels along State Road 100 would be a tire store, a fast-food, drive-in restaurant, a high-turnover sit-down restaurant, a variety store and a drive-in bank. But those haven’t been confirmed yet.
As the county describes it in its briefing memo, “The primary club building includes a main entrance to the wholesale club area, plus: a separate liquor store, a separate entry to the tire center, and includes a “Buy online pickup in club” separate exterior access door. The public needs signage to assist in wayfinding to be able to navigate the [more than] 10 acre BJ’s site to be able to determine which services they need to access. Small directional signs are insufficient with such a large scale building and property size – full size building wall signs are needed in order to accomplish wayfinding on the site for the public. The size of the property and scale of the mix of uses within the development necessitate the quantity of signs proposed on the BJ’s building and fueling station.”
There were numerous matters of detail, like landscaping and the number of feet of setback from street signs, whether the signs were just directional or crossed over into advertising (which would not be allowed), and exceptions allowing the developer to have more visible signs than the code ordinarily allows. The developer is asking for no fewer than 22 signs on the property, some of them free-standing, some of them on building walls. That may well become a point of contention once the property annexes into Palm Coast, which has a strict sign ordinance. As if anticipating that, one of the planning board members spoke of the necessity for many signs.
“Putting them further back actually does a disservice to the public because they can be driving by and last minute, ‘this is where I want to go,’ slam on the brakes, somebody hits them in reverse,” Mark Langello, one of the planning board’s most developer-friendly voices, said. He is a developer himself, and owns a shopping center in Bunnell. “It’s actually a public benefit to get the signs to where people can see them.”
But there’s little question, based on the plans submitted, that the development will be at least somewhat of a visual shock of signs. BJ’s will have a 10-foot tall, 50 square-foot free-standing sign identifying the name of the entire shopping center. The development is seeking individual, free-standing signs for each of the five outparcels. But it’ll have to get those approved by Palm Coast government, which may be tougher.
For its name on the facade of the 103,000 square foot building, BJ’s will be allowed a single all sign of a maximum of 150 square feet, with an additional seven signs spelling out “Wholesale Club,” “Spirits Shop,” “Curbside Pickup,” and “Tire Sales, Service & Propane,” some of those duplicated on the side of the building. It’s a lot of signs, but the county finds that the lengthy setback from State Road 100 reduces the visual impact. The gas station will have its own signs as well.
There are also environmental impacts. “There are wetland impacts that are happening with this development, they’re minor. The developer is following the path of minimization avoidance. Some of those impacts are unavoidable as part of the development process and there’s mitigation that’s required for that to happen.” The developer will be dredging and filling 7 acres of wetlands, offsetting the loss by buying 4.4 acres of wetlands credits from the Saint Johns River water Management District.
“This isn’t an area of significant tree cover. This isn’t hardwood trees,” Mengel said of most of the 148 trees and 700-some shrubs that were surveyed on the property. The wetlands do contain more diverse species, however, he said, with some hardwoods among the 213 trees counted there, including bald cypress, blackgum, cabbage palm, dahoon holly, red maple and slash pine, “you have two distinct communities that are that are there.” Twenty percent of those trees must be protected by local rules. Mengel said “well in excess” of that will be protected. Four bald eagle nests are on record within 5 miles of the project area, according to planning documents, “but the nearest nest is approximately 3.3 miles northeast of the project boundary.” None were observed at the site itself. An environmental analysis for the developer, conducted by Carter Environmental Services, considers it “unlikely” that gopher tortoises inhabit the site.
As for traffic flow, the county is hoping that there will be an additional east-west roadway between BJ’s development and the area just south of RaceTrac, connecting the new development to Seminole Woods Boulevard that way. But RaceTrac is resisting.
“We have had discussions internally and we would still like to very strongly encourage the parties that are all involved here to be able to work out some means of providing some cross-access through to Seminole Woods Boulevard,” Mengel said. “At this point that’s not possible because of the presence of the RaceTrac and what we understand are some competition arrangements that they have due to the sale of fuel, and the BJs fueling facility. You can imagine that by having that cross-axis connection, they feel that will impact their business. I’m not attempting to call them out or malign them in any way. My standpoint just as a planner is that I’d like to see some cross-access happened here because it will help to alleviate the impacts just to State Road 100.”
Traffic numbers on paper are one thing. Experiencing the numbers on the road is different. How much of a traffic change the new development causes remains a wild card, in that sense. The outparcels’ businesses may create what’s referred to as “internal traffic capture.” So rather than a vehicle making one trip to one store, that vehicle’s trip combining stops at two or three stores ends up being one trip, yielding that “internal capture” and reducing traffic impacts.
“As it is with most any development that we have right now is the traffic impacts,” Mengel said. “We’re aware of it, the city is aware of it, working very well I think with the with the city and with DOT. Just realizing that as we continue to have more growth in Town Center, as we continue to have more growth in this corridor, this is our growth corridor. This is our area where we’re going to have our predominant commercial corridor for the county. And this will not just serve our residents, but it will serve visitors alike. And then we’re just going to continue to have a growth and traffic that’s going to impact us. The question then is: will it impact us negatively. Our hope maybe in the Pollyanna planning world is that we’ll be able to stay ahead of it, be able to accommodate it, be able to have projects in whether it’s lane-widening, whether it’s some other alternate modes of transportation–whatever it can be, internal capture, trying to try to encourage that to happen, cross-access to happen, things that we can do to make sure that we try to reduce impacts where we can.”
BJ’s is meanwhile making itself more accessible to the neediest: today (Sept. 16), BJ’s announced that food stamps known as SNAP EBT payments will be accepted across all of its clubs, chainwide, when members use their card at checkout on BJs.com or the BJ’s mobile app. SNAP EBT payments can be also used with shopping options such as free pickup, shipping, and same-day delivery.