Survey: 70 percent favor gas station
July 21, 2009
By Warren Kagarise
Issaquah Highlands residents could someday fill up vehicles with gasoline or alternative fuels without leaving the hillside community. But they may find it difficult to grab a snack or late-night fill up at a highlands gas station.
Executives at highlands developer Port Blakely Communities have asked city officials to consider adjusting a development agreement with the city to allow construction of a gas station. Council Land Use Committee members paved the way for a highlands gas station July 14, but voiced reservations about the plan.
City Council members will likely review the proposed agreement to allow a gas station in the highlands when they meet Aug. 17.
Officials laid out details of a highlands station during the hourlong discussion: Development agreement terms would require a full-time attendant to be on hand to attend to spills. If developers built a convenience store as part of the station, the store would be required to close by 10 p.m., although pumps would likely continue to operate after the store closed.
But Port Blakely President Alan Boeker said highlands residents would probably not be able to grab a snack with a fill up.
“We are not considering any sort of Brown Bear or 7-Eleven type of full-service mini mart,” he said, noting that the proposed site for the station is located across from a proposed grocery store.
“We want Slurpees,” Council President Maureen McCarry joked.
Her Land Use Committee colleague, Councilman John Traeger, disagreed.
“Speak for yourself,” he said.
Boeker said Port Blakely surveyed 300 to 400 highlands residents to determine whether they wanted a gas station in the community; about 70 percent of respondents said yes, he said.
Despite measures to integrate a gas station into the highlands, Land Use Committee members expressed disappointment with the proposed agreement, citing concerns about the environmental impact. Committee members also voiced frustration at the prospect of construction of a fueling facility in the highlands while other promised retail options have lagged.
“It’s the pinnacle of my disappointment of how we haven’t gotten what we were hoping to get in the highlands,” Traeger said. “I’m very frustrated about that.”
Construction of a movie theater, grocery and other stores in the highlands has yet to materialize. Port Blakely representatives announced in May that plans to build a Central Market in the community had collapsed.
Traeger cast his vote against sending the development agreement for consideration by the full City Council.
“Maybe, if we were throwing it in at the end, after all of the buildings were built and everything else, but it just seems like as the first thing — it’s frustrating,” he said.
Councilman John Rittenhouse, though unenthusiastic about the agreement, recommended the measure to the City Council.
“If it were up to me, I would never want to have another gas station, anywhere, because I absolutely agree that it’s a thing of the past,” Rittenhouse said. “It’s not forward looking. It’s backward looking. However, that’s not real. We’re not there yet.”
Port Blakely executives envision a gas station designed to blend in with the surrounding community, and with ecofriendly features.
“We also want somebody who does the right kind of architecture on this site,” Boeker said. “This is not a prefab-metal Shell building.”
When the initial development agreement between the city and Port Blakely was drafted, officials worried that contaminants from a gas station could infiltrate the nearby Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer, because of the location of the development and the geology beneath the site. Officials have said advances in technology and increased knowledge about the geology rendered the concerns moot.
The aquifer is a source of drinking water for city residents.
City Environmental Science Associate Dana Zlateff said limiting pollution would depend on management at the gas station. Zlateff handles source control for the city. In other words, she attempts to deal with pollutants at the source — before they can enter and harm the environment.
Zlateff said a full-time attendant to clean up spills would provide a key barrier to preventing pollutants from entering the environment.
“It’s good management practice, and it’s going just that small above and beyond,” she said. “It’s what — if I went out there on the site — I would recommend they do these things anyway.”
Citizen activist Connie Marsh, a representative of the Issaquah Environmental Council, disagreed with the assessment.
“Frankly, having your $10-an-hour person swabbing out there is not going to happen,” Marsh said. “Unless you have somebody monitoring to ensure that somebody is standing there with a rag, the likelihood of that going into place is probably not there.”
Officials questioned the viability of requiring a gas station to offer alternative fuels.
“I would rather the market demand when it should happen, because I don’t want any business to have to be encumbered into producing something” burdensome, McCarry said.
Discussion stalled as committee members debated whether to include Swedish Medical Center as part of the revised development agreement. Hospital executives will break ground on a medical center campus in the highlands in late September.
Land Use Committee members said Swedish wants to include underground diesel tanks to hold fuel for emergency generators as part of the planned hospital campus. Members delayed discussion about the proposed fuel tanks.
In the meantime, city staffers will add language to the development agreement to allow underground fuel tanks for “essential public facilities,” such as hospitals.
Reach Reporter Warren Kagarise at 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.