More than 18 months after homeowners in the 185-home Foothills Paseo II subdivision launched an effort to derail a plan for QuikTrip on 40th Street, the gas station giant appears all but certain to win.
The city Planning Department is only a few weeks from giving final approval to the controversial project, according to spokeswoman Angie Holdsworth.
“It looks like the project is waiting final site review,” she said. “Everything is ready to go pending the approval. It will probably take a couple weeks for that to be completed give or take.”
Residents have fought the gas station since it first came before the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee in April 2019, saying it not only posed a traffic menace and nuisance but also posed an even more serious danger in the event of a fire or gasoline spill.
Those fears have been driven by the gas station’s location on the southeast corner of 40th Street and Cottonwood Way – the latter being the only way into and out of the Foothills Paseo II community.
It also will be located within 300 feet of the 40th Street-South Mountain Freeway interchange and directly across a large park ‘n ride lot.
“Most of the neighbors are not happy about it,” said Alvaro Diaz, president of the Paseo Foothills II HOA. “They still think it definitely is going to cause a lot of traffic issues. They already have a lot of questions about how this will work with the (freeway) ramp and everything.”
But Diaz also was resigned to the impending city sign-off and draws some satisfaction in the fact that residents’ opposition prompted the city to force Quik Trip to scale down the size of its project to about half of what it had planned and include a right-turn lane on Cottonwood onto the site.
“We think it’s going to cause a lot of accidents,” Diaz said. “But at the same time, I think we all understand and realize that it’s very difficult to stop things like this.”
The station’s proximity to the freeway also prompted the Arizona Department of Transportation to block Quik Trip’s plan for driveways along 40th Street.
ADOT bought up the right-of-way along 600 feet of 40th Street from the freeway to prevent the gas station or any future development on adjacent parcels from building any access from or to the thoroughfare.
The agency said 40th Street access to Quik Trip posed a danger to traffic exiting from the freeway.
While some people criticized the residents for opposing the gas station – which will be the closest to the freeway segment running through Ahwatukee – homeowners said they had no complaints with Quik Trip, but only its location.
They cited concerns about traffic safety and the possible dangers that could result from either a fire or a major gas spill resulting from a tanker accident.
Longtime resident Derrick Johnson, a captain with the Phoenix Fire Department, said the fact that the gas station sits at the only way in or out of the community made a safe evacuation almost impossible in the event of a major hazardous chemical spill or fire.
Stressing he was speaking only as a resident and not as a city fire official, Johnson had explained that spills can occur when storage tanks are being filled or when something happens to the tanker truck, such as a collision with another vehicle.
“It could be as simple as a vehicle knocking a valve off,” Johnson said.
Gasoline vapors can travel with treacherous speed, and, depending on the direction of the wind, can settle around residential and garage doors or culverts, drains and ditches.
Even using a cellphone can create a spark that will set off an explosion, he said.
“All it takes is someone opening a door and creating static electricity,” Johnson told AFN last year. “There’s a reason warning signs are around pumps telling people not to smoke or even use their cellphone.”
It’s not just the possibility of an explosion that makes gasoline spills dangerous.
Fumes can cause an array of respiratory and other harmful health effects.
But in January, Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner said that after two assessments of the site, she was convinced the neighbors have little to worry about.
“It is highly improbable and would be an incorrect assumption that an incident involving a fuel spill, or a fuel tanker, would require the evacuation of the Foothills Paseo II neighborhood,” she wrote City Manager Ed Zuercher. “However our analysis does include the slight chance an emergency incident could occur that may require a limited and temporary evacuation of 3 to 4 homes.
“An incident involving a fuel spill or fuel tanker at this location could be successfully managed due to the Department’s emergency resources located nearby including fire hydrants, staff and response assets,” she continued.
She also said that in the event a major emergency required evacuation from other than Cottonwood Way, a wall behind the community could be breached for emergency vehicles and residents.
Kalkbrenner also said a second haz-mat assessment of the site determined that no more than 1,500 gallons of gasoline could ever be spilled from a tanker because of its own emergency controls. She noted that while a tanker typically carries 9,000 gallons of gasoline, the fuel is separated into four-to-six compartments.
All in all, the chief said, “This site provides many positive “best case scenarios” for a tanker accident that translates to quick mitigation techniques taking place.”
Concerns about daily traffic had prompted the city Planning Department to have Quik Trip undertake a second traffic study, since its first submission occurred before the freeway opened.
The second study, performed in May by CivTech, a traffic engineering company, estimated that 1,844 vehicles will enter and exit the Quik Trip site every weekday but that only 10 percent of those vehicles would be heading into or out of the site during either the morning or afternoon rush hour.
It also determined “under existing lane configurations and traffic controls, utilizing existing signal phasing and timing as provided by the City of Phoenix, all study intersections operate at overall acceptable levels of service during both peak hours.”
The study also looked into the future, especially since there are other vacant parcels in the area of the Cottonwood-40th Street intersection that are zoned commercial.
“Results of the future year conditions analysis indicate that all proposed site access points will operate at acceptable levels of service during both peak hours through 2023 and full buildout of the proposed development,” CivTech said.
But CivTech also recommended some adjustments to the timing of two city traffic signals at 40th and Cottonwood and one maintained by ADOT at the freeway interchange. The city has already made its adjustments but ADOT has not yet synched its signal to those two, creating backups on 40th Street that ultimately affect traffic coming out of Cottonwood Way.
Contending that a less traffic-intensive business than a gas station would have been preferable on the site, residents also have faulted city zoning laws.
The area was zoned commercial broadly enough to allow for a gas station more than 20 years ago – before most of Foothills Paseo II was even built.
Residents contended that the law should allow for a reconsideration of zoning for a site when nearby development has occurred in the years after it was first granted.
It’s unclear what QuikTrip’s timeline is for the building the gas station.
Diaz said residents are apprehensive about what will happen with traffic when it is finally built.
He said they are especially concerned because of the exiting freeway traffic.
Exiting freeway motorists already wander into the community, thinking Cottonwood Way is a shortcut around 40th Street and finding out only after driving around that there is no other way out but the way they came in.