The zoning hearing on Tuesday, March 19th went into overtime and extra innings as the County Commissioners, weary and skeptical from the three-hour testimony of RaceTrac’s experts trying to convince them that a truck stop was “agricultural related”, voted unanimously to give RaceTrac strike 3 and deny the zoning request.

In the fall of 2023, RaceTrac applied to rezone an 11-acre parcel, located deep inside the Farmland Preservation Area, from Agricultural to Rural Commercial to build a convenience store, gas station, and truck stop. The original site plan from RaceTrac included a 6,000 sf convenience store and 16 fueling lanes for cars, 6 fueling lanes for semi-trucks and 19 parking spaces for the big rigs. That was before they realized that truck stops are not allowed in the Farmland Preservation Area, so RaceTrac threw a curve ball and removed the semi-truck parking but kept the fueling lanes for the semi-trucks.

Commissioners didn’t fall for the shenanigan and neither did neighbor Mike Huber who put an end to all the fancy expert talk during his public comments, “If a truck stops in there, it’s a truck stop!”

At the hearing, all the players showed up, including over 160 neighbors, with 50 of them signing up to speak to ask Commissioners to deny the rezoning request. In addition, Commissioners received over 300 letters in opposition, including from the top switch-hitters and sluggers in the community: Chamber and Economic Partnership, the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association, 1,000 Friends of Florida, and the Principals of North Marion Middle School and High School.

After the seventh inning stretch, Attorney Matthew Brockway and Land Use Planner Evangeline Linkous, representing Horse Farms Forever, made strong pitches to support denying the rezoning request.

County Commissioners cited several examples of safety concerns, and the transportation and congestion issues, as some of the main reasons why they voted to deny the rezoning request. The Marion County Growth Services staff report included statistics on the intersection, which showed it averages one accident a week. Several neighbors also gave powerful testimony about the numerous accidents that occur at the intersection.

“I cannot get over the transportation aspect and putting 18 wheelers onto CR 329,” said County Commissioner Craig Curry.

Other concerns included the potential of a precedent by changing the zoning from Agricultural to Rural Commercial, which could open the door to a proliferation of rezoning requests for incompatible non-agricultural commercial uses in the Farmland Preservation Area.

At the end of the lengthy meeting, neighbors sighed with relief as the County Commissioners voted no to urban sprawl and yes to farmland preservation.

Horse Farms Forever thanks the County Commissioners for their strong support of the Farmland Preservation Area. We also thank the Marion County Growth Services staff for presenting a thorough report that documented the numerous traffic issues, safety concerns, and, most of all, the incompatibility of RaceTrac’s project within the Farmland Preservation Area.

Thank you also to Save Our Rural Areas for their partnership. It was a team effort and a Home Run for the Farmland Preservation Area!