Bethany neighbors rally behind code change on gas stations
Residents in unincorporated Washington County are organizing in an effort to get the county to update its land use code and put restrictions on gas stations near environmentally sensitive areas.
These same Bethany-area residents have also come together to oppose a proposed Chevron gas station that is slated to be built at the site of the former Mad Greek Deli at Northwest 185th Avenue and West Union Road, near the Rock Creek Greenway wetlands.
The development would include a nearly 5,000 square-foot building, 10 pumps and 52,000 gallons of underground fuel storage tanks.
Neighbors say they're concerned about the possibility of one of those tanks rupturing or leaking, which could cause thousands of gallons of gasoline to leach into sensitive wetlands. The tanks would be buried within 80 feet of the wetlands, according to application documents.
Bethany resident Brandon Philips, who started a website, nabgas.com, back in 2020 when a nearly identical application was proposed in the same location, cited the Oregon DEQ Annual Leak Report to corroborate the community's concerns. According to the report, nearly 3% of the state's 1,796 underground storage tank facilities leaked in 2021 alone.
Phillips also points to the gas leak that happened in Monmouth last spring, in which gasoline leaked into 2,500 gallons of groundwater.
In a joint letter to Washington County Land Use & Transportation staff, several dozen area residents are asking they require that new gas stations be a minimum of 1,500 feet from public buildings and spaces as well as any wetland, stream, river, floodplain or environmentally sensitive area. Currently operating gas stations would be exempt.
"We have a shared belief that land use codes should both encourage economic development and 'provide for the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of Washington County' as the Washington County Community Development Code states," the letter says in part.
Phillips said about 60 citizens have signed the letter so far, and he plans on getting at least 100 signatures. He's also working on gathering support from local environmental groups, high schools and Community Participation Organizations.
"We're essentially just getting together that letter to show support to Land Use and Transportation and help recommend a work program be created and that the work program will be supported by elected commissioners," Phillips said.
Phillips said he's been in talks with Commissioner Pam Treece as well, whom he said has been receptive to their concerns.
In an emailed statement to Pamplin Media Group, Treece said she is still educating herself on what commissioners can do to possibly revise future policy.
"I respect the views of the constituents that I represent on the commission and have heard from several about the proposed gas station at NW West Union and 185th," she wrote. "The primary concern I hear is around the proposed development's proximity to the nearby wetlands. Whether the gas station is ultimately approved or not will be up to an impartial third party hearings officer and not the Board of Commissioners or the Planning Commission.
"I am educating myself on the county's role in protecting natural areas and if there is any space or need for revision to rules or development of a new policy in the future."
As for the proposed gas station in question, Bob Barman, the applicant, has requested a continuance until June 16, effectively drawing the approval process out for a few more months.
Barman had initially asked the county to waive the setback requirement so that he can build a bigger structure, which residents have tried to use against him as a jumping-off point in hopes to at least shrink the development footprint.
Barman has not responded to any requests for an interview.
Whatever happens with changing the county's code on the issue, Phillips said that he and other residents have conceded that there isn't much they can do to stop the development from happening, as it doesn't violate any standing ordinance.
"That's kind of a frustrating thing for residents," Phillips said. "Right now, there's nothing we can do about the application as it is right now, because we literally have no idea what he's going to do."
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