A proposed Chevron gas station is slated to be built at the site of the former Mad Greek Deli in Bethany,.
But the plans have prompted objections from neighbors living around Bethany Lake and the surrounding wetlands.
The gas station development would include a nearly 5,000 square-foot building, 10 pumps and 52,000 gallons of underground fuel storage tanks.
One of the major concerns neighbors say they have is that if one of those tanks were to rupture or leak, thousands of gallons of gasoline could potentially leach into the sensitive wetlands along the Rock Creek Greenway. The tanks would be buried within 80 feet of the wetlands.
There's nothing in Washington County's code preventing gas stations from being built in close proximity to public parks. But some neighbors are using another part of the county's code to put the brakes on the project: a requirement that structures have what's called a setback, the distance from the property line, of at least 20 feet on the front and side.
Bob Barman is the developer and applicant. He owns several other gas stations and convenient stores throughout the state.
Barman is asking the county to waive the setback requirement so that he can build a bigger structure.
"A smaller building footprint would significantly impact the financial feasibility of the project and render the proposed use of the site as a retail market and fueling station unviable," the application narrative states.
Barman is requesting a 2-foot front yard setback (from Northwest 185th Avenue), 10 feet for the main structure and 15 feet for the canopy side yard setback (from Northwest West Union Road.)
This variance request is the jumping-off point residents hope to use to at least shrink the development footprint, says Bethany resident Brandon Philips.
"People are frustrated that Washington County even allows gas stations to be so close to public parks," he said. "But the reason it's going to hearing or why the public has a say at all is because of the variance request."
Philips started a website, Neighbors Against Bethany Lake Gas Station, back in 2020 when a nearly identical application for a Chevron gas station was proposed in the same location. The same applicant asked for even more variances back then, giving neighbors even more of a reason to contest it.
Barman ultimately withdrew that 2020 application, only to submit a new, slightly modified version in March of this year.
A group of neighbors arranged to speak out against the project during a virtual hearing before Washington County hearings officer Joe Marsh on Thursday, Nov. 18, only for the applicant to request a continuance until Jan. 20.
Pamplin Media Group reached out to Barman for comment on this story, but he did not respond this week.
The delay didn't stop people from taking advantage of the public comment period.
"I would just simply like to suggest that as the applicant goes back to the drawing board, that he consider a wall on the south side of the development that would block headlights from interfering with the wetland and the wildlife there and place some compatible artwork on that wall on the south side that will add to the enjoyment of the neighborhood," said Virginia Bruce, who chairs CPO 1, a Washington County advisory group that represents Cedar Mill, Cedar Hills and Bonny Slope West.
Bruce also is the publisher and editor of the Cedar Mill News, a monthly news magazine that covers the Cedar Mill and Bethany areas.
Some neighbors came to the meeting with the understanding that if the applicant does decide to drop the variance request, the project will be inevitable.
"I think that some of the neighbors are coming to a realization that this project will happen regardless, because there's no attention to what's going on," said Maria Fernandez Diaz. "A wall will just reduce a little bit of light pollution to the neighbors. It won't do anything about the fumes coming in from the gas station."
Looking ahead, Philips said he plans to continue to meet with county commissioners to eventually get the code updated, ultimately preventing a similar situation happening again.
"I've had some pretty good initial discussions with (Pam Treece)," he said, referring to the area's county commissioner. "Part of what I've been doing is just educating the commissioners in the land use commission on who is responsible and telling them that 'in fact, it's you.'"
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