Planning Commission green lights proposed ban on gas stations near waterways and parks

Salt Lake City presented its proposed ban on gas stations near waterways, ponds, and >1-acre parks to Planning Commissioners last night, who voted unanimously 6-0 in approval.

The ordinance changes are a response to Kum & Go, a national petroleum retailer, leasing the former Sizzler at the northwest corner of Sugar House Park at 2111 S. 1300 East.

Kum & Go proposed a gas station and convenience store on the .82-acre property, a conditional use in the CB Community Business zone. It is the only slice of private land within the 110 acres that make up Sugar House Park.

Last April, the Planning Commission decided 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. City planning staff had previously recommended the denial. 

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.

Kum & Go appealed the decision internally at the city, which was denied by the city appeals officer. The Iowa-based company decided not to sue in district court, we reported in July, but is still carrying a 20-year triple-net lease worth $250,000 a year.

Mayor’s proposal

This was the second time the Planning Commission had heard the Administration’s proposal for zoning out gas stations near parks and waterways. After sending planners to do more research and engagement among stakeholders, the Commission received proposals for a new 21A.36.120 (Regulations for Gas Stations and Fuel Dispensing Facilities with Underground and/or Above-Ground Fuel Storage Tanks) and a deletion of the previous ordinance regulating Motor Fuel Pump Regulations (21A.40.070).

The ordinance applies to all gas tank storage, whether above- or underground, commercial or private. 

The brief outline:

•No storage tanks allowed within 350’ of “existing water bodies (pond, river, stream, canal, etc.), water resources, public parks or open space that are one acre and greater in size.”

•Setbacks for tanks from property line: 30’ minimum proposed and recommended by the PC. Currently 12’ minimum from property line

•Electric vehicles: gas stations shall provide at least one parking space dedicated to electric vehicles for every ten required on-site parking spaces

The former Sizzler property line is ~325 feet from SGH Park pond edge, by BSL’s estimate. Kum & Go’s proposal located the underground storage tanks at the property’s south edge, according to the city’s planner, Diana Martinez.

What about a city-wide ban given the environmental hazards?

As part of previously tabling the item for further research, the Planning Commission was also interested in what a larger ban city-wide would look like. Should the ban for environmental reasons be extended to other areas of the city?

Sugar House Park Pond, toward the southeast and Mt. Olympus. Photo courtesy Christie Parker

Planners came back from their research dissuaded. According to Planning’s report, “staff believes a broader restriction of gas stations near or adjacent to other sensitive land uses, such as schools, school playgrounds, residential neighborhoods, and other public areas, would eliminate large portions of the city for these uses to locate and conflict with the rights of gas station owners to own and operate fuel facilities (commercially and privately) within Salt Lake City.”

That property-rights argument was followed by a surrender to the auto-dependent status quo. Planner Martinez wrote, “These uses are currently necessary as most commercial and private vehicles in the city utilize their products.” 

After some debate over tank location setbacks from property lines, the Commission accepted the Administration’s 30-foot proposal. 

Martinez stood up for the 30-foot setback, even though the sole respondent from her 83 requests for input from gas station owners asked for a reduction to a minimum 10-foot requirement.

The commission sent a 6-0 unanimous positive recommendation to the city council for the ordinance changes.

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Posted by Luke Garrott

Luke Garrott, PhD, has published in The Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News, and written features for the Salt Lake City Weekly City Guide and The West View. A former two-term councilman in Salt Lake City's District 4, he lives in Downtown Salt Lake City and grew up in the Chicago area.