The Arizona Department of Transportation and the South Mountain Freeway loomed large in a contentious meeting of Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee Monday over the impending construction of a Quick Trip gas station near a small subdivision off 40th Street.
And by the time the nearly two-hour discussion by the committee was over, little appeared to have quelled the anxiety of many of the approximate 180 homeowners in the Foothills Paseo II HOA.
More than 100 people showed up for the meeting in what was the committee’s most contentious session since members of the Gila River Indian Community showed up in the summer of 2016 to protest an informational presentation by ADOT on the progress of the freeway.
similar to that session, the freeway and ADOT generated consternation and frustration – far more than the gas station itself.
Not that Quik Trip was free of criticism and anxiety from homeowners, who worried how the station’s proximity to some homes, its sale of beer and its 24/7 hours of operation would affect the community.
However, ADOT became the main target when it was disclosed that it will not give Quik Trip access to and from 40th Street – forcing all service station traffic onto two-lane Cottonwood Lane, the only way in and out of Foothills Paseo II.
ADOT said it would be too dangerous to allow the service station access to that thoroughfare because an exit ramp from the freeway’s eastbound lanes will lead right onto northbound 40th Street where the Quik Trip will be less 400 feet away.
ADOT officials told the meeting that the agency bought the rights to 650 feet of frontage along 40th Street north from the freeway to prevent any kind of left or right turns onto anything but Cottonwood Lane.
While ADOT could grant a waiver, they said it was highly unlikely.
The prospect of battling Quik Trip customers just to come and go from their neighborhood was troubling enough for the homeowners. Worse was the prospect of tanker trucks, delivery vehicles and other big rigs making wide turns from 40th Street onto Cottonwood to get to Quik Trip.
“Losing 40th Street is really a major thing,” said committee member Mike Hinz.
After one homeowner recounted how she and her husband have a challenge every time they make turns onto Cottonwood with their 33-foot RV, resident Brie Neilsen told the committee and Quik Trip lawyer Charles Huellmantel:
“If ADOT is so concerned about safety and traffic, it’s not going to help dumping all the traffic onto Cottonwood. This is going to be a nightmare for our neighborhood. For anyone using Quik Trip. It’s going to be a mess.”
Yet it appears to be all but a done deal.
Huellmantel and city planner Cody White stressed that the 3-acre site has been zoned for a service station since 2001 – far longer than most of the homes in Foothills Paseo II have been around.
Residents argued that the site’s zoning should be reexamined in light of that fact – though both Quik Trip’s lawyer and a city planner indicated that would be unlikely and not mandated.
The only issues that were before the committee were requests to approve a few changes to landscaping and the height of overhangs above the gas pumps. The committee also had to recommend approval of a new site plan that replaces an earlier service station site plan.
Those modifications are scheduled to go before a Phoenix Planning Department hearing officer today, April 17, at City Hall – along with two other stipulations added by the planning committee that request ADOT and Quik Trip to work on resolving the 40th Street access issue.
Huellmantel said Quik Trip would evaluate all the residents’ comments.
The lawyer stressed that Quik Trip’s design gives clerks a full view of the entire lot, and that the company has a reputation for building more visually appealing facilities than its competitors – particularly Circle K.
Huellmantel also repeatedly stressed that the lot’s owner always envisioned a service station there and that it was zoned for that use – meaning that even if the site plan was different, it was still zoned for a gas station.
“The time now is for us to build on the site,” said Huellmantel, not mentioning the fact that Quik Trip will be the first and, for now, the only service station along the Pecos Road segment of the freeway.
A 48-hour traffic study by the city of Cottonwood Lane in 2017 found that about 1,000 vehicles traversed the thoroughfare in either direction – many using the large park-and-ride lot just a few hundred feet south of the Quik Trip site.
An ADOT spokesman said at least 7,000 vehicles would be using that stretch of the freeway every day.
With the prospect of an untold number of those vehicles stopping at Quik Trip either to or from the freeway, neighbors hammered on the impact of that traffic on Cottonwood.
They noted that southbound traffic on 40th could be stacking up to make left turns onto Cottonwood to reach Quik Trip while traffic on Cottonwood heading toward 40th would stack up as cars waited to make left turns onto southbound 40th.
Because Cottonwood has only two lanes, neighbors worried emergency vehicle access to their homes would be impeded by all that traffic.
Still others raised concerns about the gas pumps – some only a few hundred feet from homes – and what would happen in the event of a hazardous chemical spill that would require an evacuation.
“There are a lot of things we think are detrimental to our community with this,” said resident Alvaro Diaz.
Neither Diaz nor most Quik Trip opponents appeared reassured by ADOT’s pledge to install a traffic signal at 40th and Cottonwood – especially because no one could tell them and the committee if the signal would have delayed green lights to permit left turn traffic to move smoothly.
Some residents were surprised when it was revealed that 40th is now under ADOT’s control, frustrated when told Cottonwood remained a city street – and exasperated by the prospect of dealing with two transportation bureaucracies.
When planning committee member Alexander Benezra asked if Quik Trip would give up some of its property so Cottonwood could be widened, Huellmantel replied, “Potentially.”
“If we can make our store run more efficiently, we will consider it,” he said.
While the site plan on April 17 was taken under advisement by the hearing officer - who has 30 days to render a decision - it may make little difference in the long run as far as residents’ fears are concerned.
Both city officials and Huellmantel stressed that the city cannot legally block access to private property.
And because the land is already zoned for a gas station, it also is unclear what recourse residents have – especially if the hearing officer approves the modifications Quik Trip is seeking today.
Unlike a zoning change, that decision is not subject to City Council action, leaving most of the residents’ concerns up to the willingness of Quik Trip, the city and ADOT to work together to figure out a solution.