Off SR-37 south of Bloomington and just south of the spot where I-69 and the state highway merge sits Sunmart, a Shell gas station and convenience store that also allows overnight truck parking.
The overnight truck parking now has to end, because a requested rezoning of the nearly 5-acre property was denied on a unanimous vote of the three Monroe County commissioners at their regular Wednesday morning meeting.
The use of the land as a convenience store and daytime truck parking is legal under Monroe County zoning. So those uses can continue.
What seemed to be the key consideration weighed by commissioners was the fact that the use of the land for overnight truck parking had been in violation of zoning code for 30 years. And they were persuaded by a view expressed during public comment that to rezone the property to allow what had been a non-conforming use would amount to “rewarding” the non-conformance.
Commissioner Lee Jone said, “I don’t think it sets a good precedent to remove restrictions that have been violated for 30 years.”
President of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas put it like this: “Sometimes you have to be grateful for what you’ve been able to do and get away with for 30 years, rather than complain that you’re not able to continue to get away with it.”
If it had been approved, the zoning would have changed from PB (pre-existing business) to a PUD (planned unit development). A PUD is a kind of customized zoning that allows for a combination of uses not possible under other zoning designations.
The planning staff had recommended against the rezoning to allow for overnight truck parking. The plan commission had forwarded a “no recommendation” to the commissioners.
On Wednesday morning, it was attorney Michael Carmin who argued the case in front of the commissioners on behalf of the owner, P & G Associates, Inc.
A key argument made by Carmin was the idea that the requested use defined by the PUD, which was labeled “truckstop–small,” is substantially different from the “truckstop/travel plaza” use that appears in Monroe County zoning code.
Most of the uses associated with a truckstop/travel plaza would not be allowed for a truckstop–small. Not allowed would be: scales; truck wash; tire repair and sales; barbershop; shower facility; trucker’s lounge; motel/hotel laundry; and propane gas bottle dispensing.
Carmin told commissioners he wished he had not labeled the defined use with the word “truckstop” at all—because of the associations that come with that word. Carmin said, “I wish I’d called this the ‘convenience store plus.’” He wondered if it would have made any difference to describe it as “just a convenience store that also allows a little bit of truck parking.”
About the non-conforming overnight truck parking over a period of 30 years, Carmin said, “This has been an uninterrupted use for over 30 years, and it has not harmed the neighborhood.” He continued, “If this PUD is denied, the station does not go away. The signage does not go away. Nothing goes away, except some truck parking.”
The truck parking is an important revenue source for the business, Carmin said. It’s also a safety issue, because it’s the only rest stop for truck drivers for a 100-mile stretch, Carmin said.
About the safety issue, Thomas said, “INDOT’s failure to create rest areas on I-69 because they wanted to save money doesn’t make it our responsibility or anyone else’s to create them.”