Amid rising residents’ concerns over a QuikTrip’s proximity to their 185-home Ahwatukee subdivision with only one way in and out, a Phoenix planning department hearing officer last week delayed action on a zoning modification for the proposed gas station at 40th Street and Cottonwood Way.
While the delay of up to 30 days came April 17 because a new site plan had been submitted for the service station, it also was partly related to a request by the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee that more time be given for the site owner and the Arizona Department of Transportation to resolve the highway agency’s refusal to give QuikTrip a driveway on 40th Street.
But the delay also has given Foothills Paseo II residents a chance to lobby elected officials about their concerns over the absence of an escape route in the event of a gasoline spill, fire or other hazardous event at the site.
Ironically, those concerns echo the alarm that a number of local elected officials had several years ago over the existence of only one emergency route for Desert Vista High School and other schools because there was no initial plan for a 32nd exit on the South Mountain Freeway.
Several legislators and City Councilman Sal DiCiccio then worked with ADOT to develop a secondary route for emergency vehicles. It is now likely no longer necessary because the agency last year decided to add a freeway-32nd Street interchange.
So far, no elected officials have entered the QuikTrip dispute, which some Foothills Paseo residents feel has provoked unwarranted attacks from fans of the business.
“We are not asking for this property to be re-zoned or for you to restrict rights of the property owner,” homeowner Brie Nielsen wrote the Legislative District 18 delegation, DiCicco and Mayor Kate Gallego last week.
Noting the site’s C-2 zoning includes a wide variety of businesses that could be built there, she added: “The majority of us would not be opposed to a QuikTrip convenience store alone, but we are adamantly opposed to a gas station or anything dealing with hazardous materials, due to the unique design of our neighborhood access and the high probability that we could be trapped in the event of a hazmat situation.”
Numerous residents voiced concerns during the planning committee meeting last week.
A retired firefighter and Foothills Paseo resident told the planning committee April 15 about his concerns over a gas station on the site.
Because of gasoline’s inherent health dangers as well as its flammability, evacuations must move people away from the direction of a spill.
But Cottonwood Way is the subdivision’s only entrance and exit, meaning that a spill at the QuikTrip site would force residents to climb walls of nearby neighborhoods to try and escape.
In the most extensive survey yet performed, a National Fire Protection Association report found that over a five-year period between 2004 and 2008, an average 5,020 fires occurred at gas stations across the country annually, resulting in two deaths, 48 injuries and $20 million in property loss.
With approximately 117,000 gas stations in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, that annual total represents a fire for every 13 stations.
The U.S. Environmental Agency database shows there were 293 reports of hazardous chemical spills at service stations in the country last year.
During the planning committee meeting, attorney Charles Huellmantel noted that the site has had a C-2 zoning for nearly two decades and said its Paradise Valley owner has always wanted a service station there.
Residents have countered that the zoning was approved long before most of Foothills Paseo II was even built.
Currently, the QuikTrip stands to be a cash cow because it would be the closest service station to the freeway along its Pecos segment.
Its proximity to the freeway’s 40th Street exit is the primary reason ADOT bought 650 feet of frontage along 40th street north of the exit ramp. The service station site is less than 400 feet from the ramp.
An ADOT representative told the committee the agency is concerned about safety on 40th Street – now a state-owned thoroughfare – and that it doesn’t want traffic exiting and entering any parcel along that 650 feet. That means vehicles entering and leaving QuikTrip would have to turn onto Cottonwood Way.
A Phoenix traffic study in 2017 found that about 500 cars traveled in each direction on Cottonwood Way during a 48-hour period.
Traffic along 40th Street is far heavier – particularly with the large park-and-ride lot just south of the QuikTrip site.
Residents say ADOT’s promise of a traffic signal at 40th and Cottonwood offers them little comfort, and they expressed particular concern about big rigs having to make wide turns to get onto or leave QuikTrip along the two-lane road.
Huellmantel dismissed those concerns, noting delivery trucks would usually be entering and leaving the site at night – likely within earshot of several homes with backyards virtually abutting the service station site.
Meanwhile, social media continues to be abuzz with a long-running argument over QuikTrip’s plan, with some fans of the company criticizing residents for opposing it.
Some critics of the freeway also have scolded Foothills Paseo residents for not joining them years ago in trying to stop the highway.
But Foothills Paseo homeowners call such criticism unfair, stressing that QuikTrip isn’t the issue, but the location is.
And Huellmantel insisted that a service station at the site is inevitable.
“Even if we don’t build it, someone will,” he told the planning committee last week. “Even if we walked away, someone is going to come in and build this anyway.”