[By Gary Nelson | The Republic | azcentral.com | Tue Aug 6, 2013]
Gas station near light rail called a bad fit
Six years ago, after numerous public meetings and untold hours of work, Mesa adopted an award-winning plan to guide development along the west end of its light-rail corridor.
Accepted by the City Council by December 2007, the West Main Street Plan aims to ensure that construction will be compatible with urban mass transit. The prescription included a long list of uses to be prohibited near future rail stations, including auto-centric businesses, such as gas stations.
Now, however, a gas station is being built near the corner of Alma SchoolRoad and Main Street, within shouting distance of a future light-rail station.
Mesa resident David Crummey has been peppering City Hall with protests — to no avail, since last September’s approval by the Planning and Zoning Board for the station’s site plan and use permit was all the permission needed.
A subsequent meeting of the Design Review Board evoked promises of extra architectural flourishes, but that board couldn’t veto the overall idea.
Crummey prepared a slide show outlining his objections to the gas station, which is tied to a Fry’s supermarket.
He e-mailed the presentation to members of the City Council and met this month with members of Mesa’s planning staff to plead his case.
“Recently, I noticed new construction at the corner of Alma School and Main,” Crummy said in his presentation. “Thinking it was light-rail-related, I investigated. I found that the new construction was a gas station — a land use that I knew was prohibited near light-rail stations … and an incompatible use with creating a more walkable, neighborhood-friendly community.”
John Wesley, Mesa’s planning director, said several factors played into city staff’s recommendation for P&Z board approval.
For one thing, he said, the actual light-rail station originally was planned for the west side of Alma School, which would place it directly in front of the gas-station site.
Now the rail station is to be built on the east side of Alma School — and since that busy north-south artery stands between the gas station and the rail station, Wesley said staffers believed the fuel station wouldn’t be an adverse factor.
Further, the gas station is tied to the Fry’s store, Wesley said. It’s not grandfathered, and if the Fry’s store closes, no one else will be allowed to sell fuel there.
Crummy told The Republic in an e-mail that his meeting with city staffers “didn’t really allay my concerns, though I understand where they come from.”
City Council member Dennis Kavanaugh said he’s unhappy not only about the gas station, but about a change in city code several years ago that gave the P&Z board authority to make such decisions without council review.
“I think David Crummey’s comments are exactly on point,” Kavanaugh said. “Putting in the gas station there really is contrary to the transit-oriented development that we were encouraging in the Main Street plan that close to the light-rail station.”
Wesley and Kavanaugh both mentioned a July 8, 2008, meeting in which the Board of Adjustment unanimously denied permission for the gas station under a slightly different address — 1245 W. Main St. instead of 1235 W. Main St.
The Board of Adjustment is a council-appointed citizen committee that decides on relatively minor deviations to Mesa’s land-use policies.
Minutes of that meeting suggest the board felt bound by policy as reflected in Mesa planning documents.
A summary of “findings” in the minutes says, “The proposed fueling facility is not compatible with either the General Plan or the West Main Street Area Plan.”
The minutes also say, “The fueling station would be a detriment to surrounding properties as it would negatively impact redevelopment efforts in the area and inhibit the potential for new development opportunities that would benefit from and be supportive of proximity to light rail.”
That Board of Adjustment decision, Kavanaugh said, “should have been a red flag to everybody” when the issue came up again.