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Gas station in residential area

by Ashin
(Kansas City, MO, USA )

Visitor Question: I've seen that in residential areas where a gas station is near neighborhood homes, the gas station causes problems of daily living. People don’t want to stay and buy a home and everything. I've been living next to a closed Philips 66 gas station, 801 Prospect Avenue, Kansas City Missouri. What do you recommend? Thanks.

Editors Respond: We hope that we have interpreted your question correctly as we edited it. We think you are asking what you could do about a closed former gas station near your home.

Yes, you are certainly correct that people do not want to live near a gas station, whether it is open and doing a thriving business, or whether it has been closed. Open gas stations create problems because of noise, pollution from gas fumes, the gasoline tanker trucks that come to fill up the gas tanks, litter from the snacks that are commonly sold at gasoline stations in the U.S., and extra traffic.

We have seen a few gasoline stations that operate their property so cleanly and are laid out so well on the lot that they do not seem to be problems. This is especially true is there is a tall privacy fence between the station and any residential lots that are adjacent to it. Stations with just a few pumps may not be a huge problem if they are adequately screened from the neighbors.

However, the tendency is for gas stations to be built larger and larger. Those stations, which offer as much merchandise as a convenience store, cause plenty of traffic during all of the hours when the station is open. Those definitely should not be located next to a residentially zoned property.

Now if we understand your question correctly, you are asking about the stations that have been closed down. Those certainly detract from the appearance of the neighborhood, and as you say, they discourage investment in residences. They also may prove to be areas where unsupervised teenagers gather, or even worse, where drug deals and other illegal activity can occur.

Understand that former gas stations are not as easy to sell as many other vacant commercial properties, since in the U.S. a gas station is presumed to be what is called a brownfield. That is a property where there is real or presumed pollution. It is just assumed that at some point the underground gas tanks have leaked or will soon do so, contaminating the soil and groundwater.

So that means that under U.S. law, the underground gas tanks must be removed, and soil around and under them also must be removed and replaced. This is the legal responsibility of the owners of the gas station, so in practice this work has to be completed before the station can be sold.

Occasionally a business will buy a former gas station to convert it to some other type of business. This new use, which might be called an adaptive reuse, could be a restaurant, small shop, tourist information center, or any other type of establishment that can fit into a relatively small space. However, this type of re-use usually only occurs where there is a strong market for retail and service businesses, or where there is a strong neighborhood organization or community development corporation (CDC) that is leading the way in revitalizing a particular neighborhood.

So we only have two suggestions for you. One is to insist that any neighborhood association or CDC that is active in your area take an interest in the property and in locating a potential new use for the property. If you do not have either type of organization, then you and your neighbors need to become very active in asking the city to take an interest in your situation.

The second suggestion would be much harder for a small group of neighbors to carry out. That would be for you yourselves to approach Phillips 66 to insist that the company get busy with cleaning up its former station. If you decide to go this route, ask any state environmental departments (in Missouri the Department of Natural Resources we think) to help you understand what must be done. Also ask the state to help you put some pressure on Phillips 66 to do the right thing. Many states have some small grants available for underground storage tank (UST) clean-up.

We hope this will give you some ideas about what you can do about the defunct gas station.

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