The owner of a site where a controversial QuikTrip gas station would be located along the only way in or out of an Ahwatukee community has withdrawn a request for city review of some site plan changes, leaving it unclear whether the company has abandoned its plan.
The owner of a 3-acre plot at the corner of Cottonwood Way and 40th Street had sought city approval of some modifications to an original site plan that was approved in 2001, when the site was zoned C-2 commercial.
“The applicant withdrew the request for modifications so the case is closed,” said city Planning and Development Department spokeswoman Angie Holdsworth. “The applicant will be required to comply with the existing zoning for this site and the development review process.”
The modifications would have enabled QuikTrip to construct the store in the way the company thought best and it is unclear if the it has a backup plan.
Adding to the mystery is the absence of any request to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, which reviews plans for underground gas tanks. The city Fire Department issues permits for tanks and said no permit request has been submitted for tanks at the site.
Attorney Charles Huellmantel, the attorney who represented the site owner in a testy hearing before the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee in April, did not return calls for comment.
QuikTrip does not own the land and the Scottsdale developer who does own it would presumably be leasing it to the company.
Regardless, it promises to be a cash cow because it would have been the only gas station close to the South Mountain Freeway along the entire 6.5-mile Pecos segment.
Foothills Paseo II residents were buoyed by the application withdrawal, but remain vigilant.
“We’re not giving up,” said resident Brie Nielsen. “They still have many approvals to go through and we’re going to be watching every step of the way.”
Residents have expressed concern over the fact that the gas station — with its potential for a hazardous material spill — would sit on the only way in or out of the 185-home subdivision.
They also are worried about the impact on traffic, since QuikTrip’s entry and exit would only be to and from the narrow, two-lane Cottonwood.
The Arizona Department of Transportation owns 650 feet of 40th Street frontage north from the South Mountain Freeway interchange and has already told the committee it would not allow a driveway along 40th for QuikTrip, which is about 365 feet north of the freeway.
Most residents also have stressed that they are not opposed to some kind of business being located on the premises, since the land has been commercially zoned before many of the homes in the subdivision were even built.
But they note that a C-2 zoning classification covers more than 100 different types of businesses and have opposed a gas station because of the dangers a HazMat spill.
Those fears were amplified on June 1 when a fuel spill at a Circle K gas station on Camelback Road at 27th Avenue shut down part of Camelback and the nearby I-17 ramps for several hours.
About 250 to 300 gallons of fuel spilled at the Circle K when, police said, the fuel tanks were being cleaned by a vacuum truck and a pressure relief valve failed. That collapsed the tank on the vacuum truck and allowed the fuel to spill.
No explosion occurred, but it took more than four hours to clean up the spill.
“This is exactly the type of event that could cause disaster for our neighborhood if a gas spill happened in the middle of Cottonwood Lane,” Nielsen said. “Some critics of our opposition to the gas station have asked how likely it is that a gas spill will occur. The June 1st gas spill is a great example that they do happen and there is absolutely nothing that QuikTrip can do to guarantee that it will not happen at the only entrance/exit to our neighborhood.”
Resident Derrick Johnson, a Phoenix Fire Department captain, has said that a spill at the Cottonwood-40th Street site would close down the only escape route for Foothills Paseo II residents.
Speaking as a citizen and not on behalf of the department, Johnson also said vapors can travel for hundreds of feet in any direction, then settle in culverts or other areas — posing both a health hazard as well as the potential for an explosion caused by something as commonplace as a spark from a cellphone.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality said that in the last three years, there have been 257 confirmed releases from underground storage tanks in the state and 3,908 violations issued against gas stations in that time period.
Of the total violations, QuikTrip stations accounted for only 39. None of its stations reported underground storage leaks, ADEQ said.
“Releases are most often self-reported because the facility is required to have a system in place to detect releases, which are then required to be reported to ADEQ within 24 hours of detection,” said ADEQ spokeswoman Erin Jordan, adding:
“Violations are issued when inspectors are on-site checking for system issues and paperwork deficiencies that could be indicative of future problems that would lead to a release.”
She added that underground tanks are inspected once every three years.
While ADEQ does not issue permits for the installation of underground storage tanks, it does review their plans.
“The proposed UST must meet all state and federal requirements,” Jordan said. “Additionally, there could be local building and fire codes that need to be met, depending on location.”
And that is only one of a wide array of reviews that QuikTrip must undergo at Phoenix City Hall — reviews that Nielsen said she and her neighbors will be following closely.
Reviews are required for any new business’ site plan, grading and drainage, life/safety, water, sewer, paving, concrete and building elevations — as well as traffic.
Additionally, city staff invites neighbors to discuss those plans.
The most recent study of traffic on Cottonwood Way found about 500 trips each way on the two-lane road within a 48-hour period. It’s unclear whether ADOT, which has declared 40th Street under its jurisdiction, has conducted any recent traffic counts along that roadway. A large park-and-ride lot is at the end of 40th Street and what remains of Pecos Road.
Nielsen said the city traffic engineer who reviewed the QT case before it pulled its request for permission to make site adjustments said the Phoenix Street Transportation Department will require a traffic impact study for Cottonwood Lane and that would not be implemented until at least this fall.
ADOT will require a right-turn lane on northbound 40th St at the Cottonwood Lane intersection, she said she also was told.
“Many Ahwatukee residents have expressed confusion about why QT would even want this location, considering how difficult it will be for all of their customers to get in and out,” Nielsen said, adding:
“It will be interesting to see what the traffic study shows.”