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Super-size gas stations stir hostility

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
The GetGo gas station on McKnight Road in Ross Township has 18 gas pumps.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Shellie Houck of Shaler pumps gas at a privately owned BP gas station in Summer Hill.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
A privately owned BP gas station along Evergreen Road in Summer Hill has four gas pumps.

The typical gas station of yesterday is a shell of what one looks like today.

Gas stations are twice the size, with more pumps; some have full-service restaurants, small grocery stores and 24-hour operations.

More convenience stores sell gas, too — a 14.2 percent increase to 126,658 locations from 2005 to 2014, according to the National Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing in Alexandria, Va.

In some communities, these mega-stations are hang-out spots on the weekends for the post-nightclub crowd — and they are attracting more opposition in the planning stages from residents who are leery of more traffic, noise, crime and bright lights.

“It's unneeded. It's unwanted. It's unnecessary in this district,” Moon resident Melissa Church said recently at a public hearing about Enon, Ohio-based Speedway LLC's proposal to build a gas station in an area zoned for residences and business.

Push-back is not uncommon with any project of substantial size that affects neighborhoods, said John Rice, a land-use attorney with Grim Biehn & Thatcher in Bucks County.

What is changing is that people are pushing back more often, he said.

“They live there. That's the biggest investment they have,” he said.

Church and her husband are among about 30 residents who hired an attorney to fight the Speedway gas station, which would have a 3,900-square-foot store and six two-sided fuel dispensers.

A gas station that size, according to industry estimates, can be expected to generate about 3,000 total daily trips — 1,500 entering and 1,500 exiting, PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said.

Convenience stores without gas stations are permitted in the area Moon Speedway selected. The company argues that its project wouldn't be a convenience store but a retail establishment with a gas station as an accessory use. Moon supervisors will decide by May 9 whether to approve it.

Fuel companies are getting more community resistance as gas stations move into more developed areas, said municipal planner Brian O'Leary, president of the American Planning Association's Pennsylvania chapter.

In towns with commercial zoning, municipal officials can require redesigns to restrict hours of operation, noise and other areas of concern, he said.

“I'd say in the majority of cases we've seen here that involve rezoning, the rezonings have gone through despite neighbor opposition,” O'Leary said.

Some residents and business owners in Marshall claimed victory in January when the zoning hearing board denied O'Hara-based Giant Eagle Inc. three variances needed to convert a Kings Family Restaurant into a GetGo gas station.

Giant Eagle filed an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas on Friday.

The company's attorney, William Sittig, declined to comment.

In 2012, some Forest Hills church members and neighbors objected to the potential traffic and disruption of a GetGo gas station proposed for next door. The church refused to sell part of its parking lot to Giant Eagle for the GetGo.

Giant Eagle will open a GetGo station in Indianapolis in 2015, a first for the company in Indiana, spokesman Dick Roberts said.

New GetGo locations are about 5,500 square feet and typically offer 16 fuel pumps and a wide variety of fresh food, Roberts said.

“We work closely with local officials and other community stakeholders when planning a new store,” he said.

Marathon Petroleum Corp. operates 1,480 Speedway stores in nine states, and all of them include gas stations. The company's growth strategy includes expanding into new contiguous markets, spokesman Jamal Kheiry said.

“We are actively acquiring real estate in Western Pennsylvania and Tennessee to be in a position to accelerate the pace of growth in these markets over the next several years,” he said.

Gas stations are branching out because sales of in-store products are more profitable than gas sales, according to Santa Monica, Calif.-based market research firm IBISWorld Inc.

“You're not going to survive with just gasoline. We don't hardly make anything on the gas,” said Dave Brogan, who has owned a small BP convenience store and gas station business in Summer Hill since 1979. He said GetGo stores have cut into his profits.

To make money from fuel sales, stations have to either charge more per gallon or sell more gas at a lower profit, which is where having many fuel pumps comes into play, said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

People sometimes push back against new stores because of misconceptions about their effect on crime, noise, traffic and neighborhood tranquility, Lenard said.

“In a lot of these (public) hearings, the what-ifs play very well,” Lenard said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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