Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Town of Convenience

Another Royal Farms, another quick-stop place to buy Marlboro Lights and Funyuns and a Diet Dr. Pepper. A pavilion with bright white lights and 24 hour gas pumps, dingy buckets of window wash, overflowing trashcans and a place where the shine of newness will wear off quickly.

In the name of "trust us, we know what's best for the town," this is what your Centreville town government is considering adding to the south side of town, a Royal Farms. It would become the fifth gas station (Hillside, Shamrock, Acme, and Citgo being the other four), meaning there would be one gas station in Centreville for every 313 households (numbers based on 2010 census). If you don't think that sounds like a ridiculous ratio, think about the last time you had to wait in line to buy gas in Centreville. When you look at the Royal Farms issue from a strictly need-based evaluation, it is difficult to justify giving the Royal Farms the green light, Centreville simply doesn't need another gas station. 

There is also an assumption that Royal Farms will pull people in to Centreville off of 301. This is patently ridiculous. From the town of Centreville to the Bay Bridge, I last counted 14 gas stations visible from highways 213, 301, and 50. Fourteen gas stations! That is roughly a station for every mile. The idea that a new gas station in Centreville will be some kind of petrol oasis in a vast fuel desert is insane, considering that Centreville already has those aforementioned gas stations, and that any drivers on Route 301 would have had ample (and arguably more convenient) opportunities to fill up before getting to our town.

Of course, we hear also about how many jobs Royal Farms will bring to town, although I am curious how many of the people who use that as a justification would actually want to work there. It bears asking, are these the kinds of jobs (low-paying, low-benefits, high turnover) that Centreville lacks? Or do we really lack precisely the kind of jobs that Royal Farms doesn't offer, the kind of jobs that allow one to raise a family and contribute to the fabric of the town in a meaningful way? For many people in Centreville, having a quality job means leaving town. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that (in fact, it goes with the territory of being a rural town with a high quality of life), but let's not pretend Royal Farms will permit people who are now commuting out of Centreville to high-paying, intellectually stimulating jobs elsewhere will now be able to work closer to home.

It should also be noted that in a December 2012 article in the Huffington Post, Royal Farms was cited as aggressively cutting hours to avoid paying for healthcare benefits for their employees. As a result, the vast majority of the Royal Farms employee base is part time. The notion that Royal Farms would be an employment boon to Centreville is pretty far fetched. What's more, the chain is completely corporate owned, so there will be no opportunity for a local franchise owner to benefit, and spend some of those profits in the town. The positive impact to Centreville of a Royal Farms would be incredibly limited, if it exists at all.

But what is more concerning to me is the lack of a sensible vision for the future of the town. Putting a Royal Farms way south of downtown would only serve to further pull people out of the historic area of town, placing even more stress on what should be the focal point of Centreville: its historic downtown. By investing in sprawl, the town is making the decision to utilize limited resources outside of the downtown area, this is unwise. We already provide gas stations to our own residents and those just passing through, let's focus instead on creative public/private partnerships to revitalize the areas between the two bridges, and commit to making Centreville a destination, and not just a pit stop.    

And in conclusion, let's also think about what Centreville is, a place where we are proud that life slows down; even though some of us might have stressful jobs in Easton, Annapolis or Washington, we can come home to a place where much of that stress falls away; but the whole business model of Royal Farms, and other stores like it, is the notion that life needs speeding up, that everything, and everyone, needs to always be in a hurry. Perhaps it's naive, but I don't think the Royal Farms business model is right for the future of Centreville.




Dan Worth said...

Steve - in case you haven't heard, the vision is to abandon downtown and develop the Wharf area as a destination instead. See the Heritage Area Plan for details.

Anonymous said...

I would love it - if you looked into Queen Anne's county Planning and Zoning now trying to push thru a Royal Farms to replace where Holly's in Grasonville. You talk about about a traffic nightmare for the residents on an already confusing intersection, not to leave out the fact that they approved 2 -30k gas tanks to be buried below a flood plan. How is this responsible planning for our neighborhood. Grasonville is not an Inc. town- so our voice is but a dull hum to the Planning and zoning. It was also testified during the variance meeting that Holly's never flooded - Really ??? I found many photos showing this not to be a fact.