A Murphy’s USA gas station and convenience store will open on the corner of Broad River and Bush River roads in the spot of a former Rite Aid. This opening is causing frustration for some in the community who say there are too many gas stations, they attract the wrong crowd and the area needs more grocery stores.
“The special exception allowed a narrow group of people that may or may not understand the environmental and economic impacts with what they have allowed,” said Javar Juarez, president of the Broad River Business Alliance.
There are nine gas stations directly off of Broad River Road in the nearly 4-mile stretch between the Broad River bridge and St. Andrews Road in the area that the Murphy’s USA is being built, according to Google Maps.
In the same area, there are three grocery options— Food Lion, Asian Market and Halal International. The area is designated as a low-income and low-access area, commonly known as a food desert, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This designation means that a significant amount of residents are more than 1 mile from the nearest supermarket, which specifically impacts residents without reliable transportation.
The city required a special exception application for Murphy’s USA to build on the property due to the land being zoned as a general commercial district, which allows convenience stores and gas stations only under special review.
“The information in that special exception application is so vague,” said Juarez. “It does not speak to the environmental impacts by which we are being exposed to benzene chemicals in this community and the type of disenfranchisement that occurs while we’re trying to find ways to feed our community who are now supplementing their nutrition from out of this gas station.”
The special exception application submitted by Keck and Wood, an engineering firm in Georgia, details the plan to construct a 2,800-square-foot convenience store and gas station with eight fuel pumps. It also includes a “good neighbor plan” that promises to institute a litter control program, a loitering control program, a neighborhood communication program and promises to comply with signage regulations.
Representatives from Murphy’s USA could not be reached for comment.
Juarez, who has been active in the Broad River business community for the past 10 years, found out about the Murphy’s USA opening a couple of weeks ago when the old Rite Aid building was demolished. He was in the midst of planning a way to buy the property to set up a wellness center for the community, he said.
“We were blindsided when, just after we submitted a bid to one of our sponsors to help pay for the wellness center to open, they began demolishing the Rite Aid,” Juarez said.
Other members of the community felt blindsided as well, with one resident of 24 years saying it felt “as if it were done secretively.”
After the demolition, Juarez decided to start digging to find out what was going on with the property. He eventually found an application to Columbia’s Board of Zoning Appeals from May 7, 2020.
The Murphy’s USA special exception application was placed on the board’s consent agenda, which is for “non-controversial and routine matters going before the Board of Zoning Appeals,” according to Zoning Administrator Rachel Bailey. Bailey said the property plans were posted and advertised in a proper way and no opposition was expressed to the zoning department from the community.
One local business manager, Craig Robson, who is a master jeweler at Tick Tock Dr. on Broad River Road, said he’s glad a business is going in rather than being next to a vacant building. But he would’ve preferred to see a small grocery store fill the lot. He is worried about potential drug activity or even theft coming with the gas station so close to his business.
“I just don’t really think it’s going to benefit my business at all,” said Robson. “I don’t really want it here because if it blows up, my business is dead.”
Juarez said he and other members of the community are worried about the tolls of littering and loitering that he’s seen with other gas stations in the area, not to mention the impact that the chemical benzene in gasoline has. The American Cancer Society reported that areas of community exposure to the cancer-causing benzene are gas stations, areas of heavy traffic and industrial sources.
“We’re trying to redevelop (this area’s) retail, tech. We’re trying to move us into the future, and it feels like the city of Columbia — this board— is trying to keep us where we’re at,” said Juarez.