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Tops told to rework plan for gas station

Tops Markets' plan for a new gas station in the parking lot of its Amherst Street store will need to be reworked, the city Planning Board told company representatives on Tuesday.

The grocer's lawyer told the board that the store is at a "crossroads" and that new revenue streams are needed to keep the store viable.

"It's vital for us to move forward with this redevelopment," said Daniel A. Spitzer, Tops' lawyer.

But the board heard from several members of the community who were concerned about the proposed station's proximity to Scajaquada Creek and potential environmental issues, as well as general concerns about security and maintenance of the store.

Board members voiced their own concerns before telling the store to revise parts of their plan.

"To me it looks like a Thruway truck stop," said board member Martha Lamparelli.

The board asked that some parking spaces that border a recreational bike path be eliminated to enhance the area and that the canopy covering the gas pumps be redesigned.

Following the meeting, Spitzer said he believes the store can accommodate the requested changes, and he expects to return to the Planning Board on July 17.

Tops officials cautioned that they weren't threatening to close the store if the gas station isn't approved but noted that the store's lease is up in 2014 and its future is in jeopardy.

"We have to have an economically viable store," Spitzer said.

The store is planning other enhancements, company officials said, including warmer paint colors on the store's exterior, resurfacing the parking lot and interior improvements.

The gas station, if approved, would be similar to the station at the company's Niagara Street store and include a kiosk and canopy.

About eight residents spoke out about the project, and at least nine letters from community groups or residents opposed to the project were submitted to the board.

Greg Nikiel, who lives nearby, raised security concerns, and said store operators don't do enough to take care of the property.

"There's always flashing lights there," he said. "Make them prove themselves."

The store will put up more cameras to address those, said Spitzer, who noted that the store is not operated around the clock.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper submitted a letter urging the board to require the store to further study the fueling station's potential environmental impacts.

Tops officials said they are installing a more effective drainage system and said they will conduct soil testing in compliance with existing law.

A bike path that runs along the store's parking lot would also not be affected by the development, they said.

Tops had approached the city about a gas station at the same location about eight years ago, but it lacked support from city officials and the store's application was eventually withdrawn.