Monday, February 26, 2024

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
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Largest crowd, ever: more than 200 crowd city hall; 60 offer comments for, against Buc-ee’s travel center

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Meeting was also longest, adjourning at 2:00 a.m. (after beginning at 6:00 p.m.)

The largest crowd ever attended the Mebane city council meeting Monday night.

A crowd of more than 200 filled the council chamber and spilled over into an auxiliary room set up behind the council chamber.

Many of those in attendance signed up to speak during the public hearing on the project, to weigh in with their opinions for or against  the rezoning request for a Buc-ee’s.  The company was frequently described as operating the largest gas stations in the world.

Unlike some council and planning board meetings where audience members hoot, holler, and clap for speakers with whom they agree and moan aloud or boo at those with whom they disagree, the crowd sat quietly and respectfully, as requested by mayor Ed Hooks at the outset of the proceedings.

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The council, and audience, heard for almost 2½ hours (with a 15-minute break) from the company’s representatives, with all council members interrupting occasionally with questions about specific aspects of the company’s layout and plans.

Then for more than another 2½ hours, the council heard from a succession of speakers, 60 in all, who voiced support for, or opposition to, the Buc-ee’s plans. The mayor had set the customary three-minute time limit on individual speakers, which was strictly enforced – with a clock on the screen giving everyone present a digital countdown of the speaker’s time at the podium.

While 78 people signed up to speak, some had apparently left by the time (1:00 a.m.) the mayor called the last of the names on the sign-up sheets.

Then the council spent another hour (between 1:00 to 2:00 a.m.) on a second hearing, for a special use permit to allow the operation of a travel center on the property which they had voted, 5-0, to rezone to heavy manufacturing.

During the first public hearing, from 6:40 until 1:00 a.m., residents covered a wide range of grievances and reasons for support.

There were, in essence, several groups and subparts: about half the speakers were actually from Mebane, either within the city limits or just outside, and they were divided in support and opposition.

The remainder were divided between some in-county residents (from Graham, Burlington, and Haw River), most of whom were in favor.

Then there were out-of-county residents, who also divided between corporate allies and supporters of Buc-ee’s and activist opponents, including some from the Efland area who noted their successful challenge to the company’s initial attempt to locate its North Carolina travel center in that community in 2021.

The second hearing was conducted in a quasi-judicial format, as required by state law, with all speakers required to be sworn in, and council members stating that they would consider the evidence – i.e., testimony – impartially.

That more formal approach attracted only three public speakers, in addition to the company’s attorney and representatives.

The public speakers were clearly not used to the more formal approach, which requires an identification of their educational and other professional credentials to give “expert testimony.”

The last speaker, Lucas Babinec, grew loud and emotional, citing his expertise as “a human being.”  Hooks had to use his gavel for the first and only time during the evening to ask Babinec to stop talking; Babinec was ultimately led away from the podium by Mebane’s police chief and another Mebane police officer.

Lucas Babinec

The following are highlights of some of the comments during the public hearing; all are from Mebane residents.

Lorraine Werts, 113 Somerset Court, urged council members not to be caught up with being showered with “sparkles and rainbows” from the company, which she described as only interested in “the almighty dollar” from its profits from a Mebane location.

Lorraine Werts

Janet Ecklebarger, 2872 Nereus Drive, said that the “traffic will be like the Saturday before Christmas at Tanger,” the outlet mall located a few exits down from the Buc-ee’s site, also in Mebane.

Janet Ecklebarger

But Jim Shaw, 839 Longleaf Pine Place, said Buc-ee’s represented an “economic engine” that would contribute to Mebane’s growth.  He said the property under consideration for the Mebane site of Buc-ee’s “is too expensive to remain a cornfield.”

Jim Shaw

Barbara Phillips, 138 Bobwhite Way, said “Buc-ee’s is for tourists, not for Mebanites.”  She and other opponents said that Mebane will bear the burden for a company that serves those passing through.

Barbara Phillips

Michael Garrett, 1103 Copper Circle, said Buc-ee’s should be appreciated for what it is: “a one-stop road trip store,” both for travelers and locals.  He also said he had universally good experiences at other Buc-ee’s while on road trips.  Responding to the hyperbolic criticisms of the store, he said, “Buc-ee’s arrival is not the equivalent of Chernobyl.”

Michael Garrett

Shalina and Ravi Sealey, 406 Mockingbird Lane, both wore Buc-ee’s tee-shirts to show their support for the company.  Shalina Sealey pointed to an online petition with more than 2,100 signatures in favor of the Buc-ee’s location.

Ravi Sealey
Shalini Sealey

Similarly, Laurie McAlister, 119 Walter Hagen Drive, who said her experience at the company’s Florence, South Carolina store had been good and that Buc-ee’s “would make a great addition to Mebane.”

Laurie McAlister

Other favorable Buc-ee’s experiences were related by Tim and Becki Slosek, 609 South Fourth Street.

Tim Slosek
Becki Slosek

Dan Shannon, 4681 Mebane-Rogers Road, who is also a downtown business owner and member of the Hawfields Civitan Club, said both organizations unanimously supported the proposed travel center.

Dan Shannon speaking in the city council chambers. Like all speakers a 3-minute countdown clock ticked down as each speaker made his and her comments.

Tim Covington, 3028 South NC 119, focused on the “large economic impact for Alamance County” and what he termed the “huge” sales tax revenue that would result from the project.  He said the influx of such additional sales tax revenue could help offset higher property taxes.

Tim Covington

Shawn Harris, 4020 St. Croix Lane, also emphasized the favorable tax impact from an increase in sales tax revenue, which he, too, said could offset the property tax impact on local residents.

Shawn Harris

Cat Andrews, 3038 Fieldstone Lane, pointed to the “noise pollution” that would result from the new gas station and all the traffic it would generate.

Catherine “Cat” Andrews

Denise Nepveux, 300 South Fourth Street, said that “environmental justice and health justice” issues weighed against the Buc-ee’s.

Denise Nepveux

Ken Jackson, 300 Pickett Lane, said he “would rather see Buc-ee’s rather than another warehouse down the road,” terming the project an “asset to the city.”

Ken Jackson

That sentiment was echoed later by Josh Woodard, 500 South Third Street, who said he’d prefer neither a warehouse, its current zoning, nor the proposed Buc-ee’s, but given the reality of the choice before the council, he prefers a Buc-ee’s to another warehouse.

Josh Woodard

Danny Gregory, 3010 Bluebird Lane, described himself as an archeologist, and disputed the findings quoted by the company’s attorney from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources State Historic Preservation Office.

Danny Gregory

That state agency had told the company that, based on a survey conducted in 1997 for an earlier potential project, “no archaeological sites, historic Trading Path or otherwise, were recorded on the property.” Gregory insisted that more up-to-date methods than were available in 1997 could substantiate the historic importance of the property.

See the letter from the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources State Historic Preservation Office HERE

Cindy Cole, 301 North Seventh Street, said much of the opposition to Buc-ee’s was being overstated.  Referring to similar hysteria over an earlier commercial project, she said, “Walmart didn’t ruin Mebane.  Neither will Buc-ee’s.”

Cindy Cole

Peter Orton, 612 South Fifth Street, pointed to climate change and decisions reached at a recent international conference in Dubai which forecast an end to fossil fuel usage.

Peter Orton

Edward Mazurek, 3469 Bentridge Drive, criticized the city council for “not dealing with traffic properly,” saying that the he didn’t see the “net benefit to Mebane” from a Buc-ee’s travel center.

Edward Mazurek

Richard White, 2635 Jamie Baker Drive, criticized Buc-ee’s personnel policies and in particular pointed to the low “ratings” from its employees on various online sites.  Turnover, dissatisfaction, and harsh working conditions were cited.

Richard White

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