Can Gas Stations be Compatible with Urbanism?

Gas stations, or whatever their future replacements might be, aren’t going to go away.  Much as there were livery stables until the dawn of the automotive age and gas stations since then, there will always be a need for places that fuel our personal transportation vehicles.  But that doesn’t mean that we should design our cities around them.

A 16-pump gas station was recently broached in Petaluma.  The concept elicited a range of responses.  Some argued that the location near the busiest intersection in town was wrong.  Others argued that the station would generate too much traffic.  Still more argued that an over-sized gas station, particularly one that might use gasoline as a loss-leader to attract customers for other goods, would be unfair competition for existing gas stations.  And those on the other side of the discussion argued that the public needs the lower gas prices the station is expected to offer.

Further complicating the picture, gas stations are a permitted use on the proposed site.  This means that, as long as the application conforms to all pertinent standards in the zoning ordinance, the applicant can develop “by right”.  The City may require changes in the site plan, but can’t deny the gas station.