As Delaware continues its inexorable growth (the city will soon hit the 40,000 mark), Speedway is looking at another gas station and convenience store to add to its local portfolio. A preliminary development plan has been submitted to the city of Delaware, and the matter will be discussed at tonight’s meeting of the planning commission (City Hall, 7 p.m.).
If approved, the plan would then go through several more steps, including a review by city staff, a public hearing and a vote by City Council. Speedway hopes to begin construction in the spring of 2016 with a five- to six-month construction timeline.
The proposed gas station would be located on the northwest corner of U.S. 23 North and Hills-Miller Road. The site plan shows a total of 18 fueling stations – seven bays with 14 pumps for passenger vehicles and four bays for diesel and semi trucks – as well as a 4,608-square-foot convenience store. Needless to say, the project will require significant infrastructure upgrades. The main ingress and egress will be on Hills-Miller, which is currently a narrow two-lane residential street; that road will have to be widened to make room for a turn lane. A right-in, right-out turn lane will also be added to southbound U.S. 23.
What are some of the pros and cons of the gas station? On the one hand, Speedway would provide local jobs, boost sales-tax and income-tax revenue, and develop land that is currently sitting vacant. For motorists leaving and entering the city, Speedway would be the last and first opportunity to buy gasoline or diesel because there are no other gas stations between Delaware and Marion. And since there are no other grocery stores in the area, it would also allow travelers as well as nearby residents to purchase various food items, cigarettes and alcohol.
It is noteworthy that the Speedway fueling station is not intended as a full-fledged truck stop. Restaurant services, showers, laundry facilities, truck scales, maintenance shops, etc., will not be offered. Speedway spokesmen have pledged that “there will be no overnight truck parking.” Also, according to a traffic study, the proposed development will only service the truck traffic that is already using U.S. 23 and “not draw trucks off interstate highways such as Interstate 71.”
In addition, the city’s tree fund would benefit from the infusion of more than $100,000 if the project proceeds as intended. Lastly, the plan also envisions sidewalks, or sidewalk easements, along U.S. 23 and Hills-Miller, and a water-detention pond north of the property.
However, residents in the Oakhurst subdivision have voiced strong objections to the proposed gas station. At a packed town-hall meeting on Sept. 25, 2014, numerous concerns were raised. On Sept. 5, 2014, The Gazette provided the following summary written by concerned residents John and Susan McGrail: “Destruction of watershed, wetlands and flood control; creation of a residential traffic snarl and dangerous city intersection; creation of a major stopping point and location for transport of drugs and human trafficking in our city limits; the transport and overnight storage of more hazardous material in our city limits; increased burden on police and fire departments; devaluation of property values; degradation of a gateway to our community.”
That is quite a list, and it is by no means complete. For example, the development plan does not address the question whether the gas station would be open 24/7, but either way there will be some noise and light pollution. Also, Speedway has purchased 12.9 acres at Hills-Miller but has initial development plans for only 4.8 acres. Three wooded acres will be dedicated as a permanent conservation easement and remain undisturbed. However, that leaves 5.1 acres unaccounted for. What guarantee is there that they won’t be developed into a full truck stop at a later point in the future? I propose that Speedway either agrees to sell the acreage or to enter a social compact that would prohibit any expansion plans for the next 20 or 25 years.
Another recurring concern is about the necessary upkeep. The Speedway station on London Road is dated, not well maintained, and has a leaky roof. At a City Council meeting on Nov. 10, 2014, it was referred to as “a mess.” Other Speedway stations in central Ohio have also been called “eyesores.” Is this the fate that awaits the fueling station within a few years?
Will it be possible to find common ground and to reconcile the different viewpoints? I would encourage all residents to familiarize themselves with the topic and to participate in the decision-making process. This is an interesting test case not only for City Council (especially in light of the upcoming November elections for all four city wards), but also for the Delaware community as a whole.
Thomas Wolber teaches in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages at Ohio Wesleyan University. He has a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He serves on Delaware’s shade tree commission.