Naples' strict design codes challenge companies

A customer get gas at the RaceTrac at Whippoorwill Lane and Pine Ridge Road on Wednesday Sep. 26, 2012.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

A customer get gas at the RaceTrac at Whippoorwill Lane and Pine Ridge Road on Wednesday Sep. 26, 2012.

A rendering of a proposed RaceTrac gas station to go in on Airport-Pulling Road in Naples.

A rendering of a proposed RaceTrac gas station to go in on Airport-Pulling Road in Naples.

— Momentary relief swept over the faces of RaceTrac gas station agents, who received preliminary design approval for a new Naples location.

Their appearance before the Design Review Board on Wednesday marked the company's third attempt at preliminary approval for a 20-pump station with a nearly 6,000-square-foot store at 1150 Airport-Pulling Road N.

But board members attached a slew of conditions to their vote, and RaceTrac still faces the city's Planning Advisory Board and a vote by City Council before a return visit to the Design Review Board for final approval.

"The renderings don't look like a typical RaceTrac," Todd Duplantis, RaceTrac's senior engineering project manager, said after the meeting.

Strict design codes in Naples challenge business owners — especially corporations and franchises — to meld their brand identities with the city's aesthetic, sometimes at the risk of becoming unrecognized by customers and often at increased costs.

That meant RaceTrac, which has 500 locations in the southeastern U.S., had to tweak its corporate model twice, at one point even having to defend its signature red-and-yellow color scheme. Primary colors are discouraged in the code, board members said.

Architects broke up the traditional canopy that stretches over the pump stations into separate pieces and suggested stripes instead of solid colors.

After two failed attempts before the board, RaceTrac flew in a new team of officials from its Atlanta headquarters for the Wednesday meeting and hired a local architect, Matthew Kragh of MHK Architecture & Planning, to make changes to their proposal.

"If you're doing business in Collier County, the corporate look doesn't matter," Kragh said. "But the city of Naples is very anti-corporate. They're more of an old-town feel, which is indicative of what I would consider some of the higher-end municipalities around the United States."

While RaceTrac was willing to work with Naples, changes to its canopy and the addition of decorative palm trees begin to add up.

"There's a point of diminishing returns, but everything we did today is OK," said project manager Tom Hardy.

"It will cost us more money, but it's worth it," Duplantis added.

Adam Benigni, senior planner with the city, said Naples does not allow for corporate design in its downtown districts.

The city's Design Review Board formed about 10 years ago after the CVS pharmacy on Ninth Street South, then Eckerd Drugs, received criticism for installing fake windows along a major roadway, the Daily News reported in 2002.

Benigni said before that board existed, there weren't rules in place against corporate architecture.

But RaceTrac's site is zoned for business and sits on the city's fringe, and Benigni said its location merits some leeway.

"It's not like it's on U.S. 41 or in Old Naples," he said. "Airport isn't the most attractive street, and this will probably be the nicest gas station at least in this section of it. It'll be a brand new one, done correctly with lots of nice landscaping."

Gene Martin, chair of the Design Review Board, used to work in a suburb of Chicago. Villages there, he said, had even more stringent design codes than Naples.

"We try to understand and appreciate corporate identity programs and standards (in Naples)," Martin said.

"At the same time, there have been some more recent projects where we had a Dairy Queen with national logo and style and now the RaceTrac. We try to have them work with us on minor modifications, which will work into the city in a better light."

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