Milton board approves Royal Farms variances

Store agrees to decrease size of sign
March 1, 2022

Milton’s Board of Adjustment has approved two variances for a proposed Royal Farms convenience store and gas station at the corner of Route 16 and Union Street Extended.

The variances Royal Farms was seeking Feb. 22 were for a 20-foot parking setback from Route 16 and the size of the sign on Route 16. Royal Farms had been planning to have two signs, one on Route 16 and one on Cedar Creek Road, but those plans were changed to only have one sign on Route 16. Royal Farms also agreed to reduce the sign height from 28 feet to 25 feet in a 106-square-foot area. 

In its vote, the board approved the parking variance by a 3-2 vote and the sign variance by a 4-1 vote. 

Town code requires a 50-foot setback from property lines for parking spaces, but the Royal Farms plans show parking fronting Route 16 near the gas station canopy well within the 50-foot setback. Additional parking is planned for around the convenience store, closer to the Cedar Creek Road portion of the parcel.

The Feb. 22 board meeting started with a presentation by Shawn Tucker, attorney for Royal Farms. During discussion of the Route 16 sign, board member Allen Sangree brought up how in the state code, a gasoline retailer is only required to display the price of gas on the pumps, although other signs on the premises stating the price of gas are not prohibited. Sangree said during the variance process, Royal Farms has portrayed the situation by saying it must have the sign and that the sign must be as tall as Royal Farms is asking.

Tucker said the state code is ambiguous in its meaning and that Royal Farms has been following Milton’s zoning code. Tucker said the sign request is also for safety reasons, so motorists can clearly read the sign without having to slow down while driving. 

When asked by the board what Royal Farms’ particular hardship would be should the variances not be granted, Tucker said without it, Royal Farms would not be able to compete against similar large businesses along Route 16, such as Food Lion, which have large, pylon signs. 

The board then raised concerns about the sign’s height, which was 28 feet in the original plans. Jeff Bainbridge, Royal Farms director of real estate, agreed to reduce the height of the sign by 3 feet.

“We kinda want to wrap this thing up. We’re thrilled about being here in Milton, but we want to wrap it up. If we got down to 25 feet, that would be acceptable to Royal Farms,” he said.

The board took public comment, with former Councilwoman Esthelda Parker-Selby, who lives on Route 16, speaking in support of the project. She said Royal Farms representatives have been very upfront with her and other neighbors in the area about answering questions and addressing concerns. Parker-Selby said she would like to see progress on the Royal Farms project. 

Lea Terhune said she opposed the project because of the environmental damage and traffic congestion it will cause in the area. She said while Royal Farms has made an effort to address concerns from the community, it is not enough to overcome how the store will impact the area. 

After closing comments, the board put the matter to a vote, with both variances passing. 

Sangree, who voted against both variances, said, “I’m concerned about the aesthetics and the precedent it establishes.”

Chair Steve Crawford, who voted in favor of both, said he was not worried about precedent or aesthetics because the Royal Farms application has been previously approved by both town council and the planning and zoning commission, and the use of the property is called for in the town’s comprehensive development plan. 

Those in favor of the variances said the project fits in with the commercial nature of Route 16, and the variance proposals were reasonable.  

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