After vote against Sugar House Kum & Go, the city will look to block new gas stations near parks

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Kum & Go isn’t prepared to back down from its attempt to locate a gas station on the northwest corner of Sugar House Park after losing a key vote against the project on Wednesday, according to a broker involved in the deal. Salt Lake City isn’t prepared to allow a similar battle in the future, either.

The Midwestern company is expected to appeal a 9-1 Planning Commission vote against giving a permit for a gas station on a 0.82-acre property that is the only slice of private land within the 110 acres that make up Sugar House Park.

Kum & Go is already leasing the land but needs city permission to carry out its plans for a filling station and convenience store. It plans to appeal, according to a representative involved in the lease.

“I talked to the guy at Kum & Go and said, ‘What’s your attitude? What’s your plan? What are you thinking?” said Kip Paul, vice chairman for investment sales at Cushman & Wakefield in Salt Lake City. “His response was, ‘We really like this site, we think it’s going to be fantastic for us, and we aren’t going away.”

Paul was the listing broker when the property’s owner sought to sell the property. After early plans for housing on the high-priced site fell through under community pressure, Kum & Go stepped forward to lease the land from the existing owner.

The vote against the gas station wasn’t entirely a surprise. Last week, city planners recommended the action, saying in a lengthy staff report that the negative impacts of the gas station couldn’t be mitigated. City ordinance says conditional use requests “shall” be denied if that’s the case.

Staffers said the gas station posed a risk to the nearby Parleys Creek and city groundwater, both in the form of a potential gas leak underground and through runoff pollutants on the impervious surface around the proposed filling station and convenience store.

The company can appeal the ruling with the city’s three-member appeals hearing officer panel. If it loses that appeal, too, the company would have up to 30 days to file a lawsuit in state court to try and reverse the decision.

The website sltrib.com also confirmed the company’s intention to appeal the decision, citing an attorney for the company.

Stopping the next one

While that process plays out, Salt Lake City isn’t waiting for more gas stations to come to areas that could potentially harm sources of freshwater in the city.

Two days before the Planning Commission’s vote, the mayor’s office began to analyze where gas stations are currently allowed and prohibit them when they’re near sources of water, ground water recharge areas and public parks.

The idea is to propose a minimum distance a gas station can be from a river, stream or other body of water, as well as a park or other open space “over a certain size.”

“This action is necessary to further the legitimate government interest in protecting rivers, creeks, streams and other water bodies in the city and increasing the protection of the groundwater protection areas,” according to a letter Planning Director Nick Norris wrote to the mayor. 

Mayor Erin Mendenhall signed the Norris memo, starting the petition process that will include public hearings and a trip to the Planning Commission.

In an email to Building Salt Lake, Norris called the proposed zoning change an “indirect response” to the Kum & Go proposal.

“As we were doing our analysis of that project we identified the potential for future gas stations to be similarly close to rivers or streams and potentially impact other open spaces that are intended to be either primary or ground water recharge areas,” Norris said.

“The intent of this is to consider the cumulative impact this specific land use may have on our rivers and streams instead of addressing it through the conditional use process each time,” Norris said.

Norris added that the proposal wouldn’t impact the Kum & Go application because “a final decision has been made by the Planning Commission.” 

It’s not clear how many properties currently exist in zones that allow gas stations as a conditional or permitted use. With the mayor’s approval, the city will soon find out.

Email Taylor Anderson

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Posted by Taylor Anderson

Taylor Anderson grew up near Chicago and made his way West to study journalism at the University of Montana. He's been a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, Bend Bulletin and Salt Lake Tribune. A move from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City opened his eyes to the importance of good urban design for building strong neighborhoods. He lives on the border of the Liberty Wells and Ballpark neighborhoods.