Salt Lake City’s planners say the city should reject controversial plans to locate a Kum & Go gas station next to popular Sugar House Park.
The fueling station and convenience store proposed at the site of a vacated Sizzler restaurant, 2111 S. 1300 East, poses unsurmountable risks of a gas tank leak or contaminated runoff that could damage soils and water resources in the park, Parleys Creek or farther downstream, according to their newly released report.
The findings also cite concerns over heightened traffic at the busy intersection of 2100 South and 1300 East and the prospect of fueling trucks rolling through nearby neighborhoods. They thus recommend that the city’s planning commission turn down a conditional use permit sought by the Iowa-based Kum & Go company.
Their 78-page report, issued ahead of a much-anticipated April 12 hearing on the permit request, comes after an outpouring of opposition in recent months to the gas station from residents, park supporters and members of the Sugar House Community Council.
Judi Short, a former Salt Lake City planning commissioner who is now land use and zoning chair for the community council, called the report “thorough” and said it had captured some of the deep concerns felt by residents.
“From what I’ve heard, everybody’s against it,” said Short, who noted the city had received 653 public comments on the Kum & Go proposal, the vast majority opposed. Yet the findings were no guarantee, she noted, that the planning commission will rule the same way.
“That’s why,” Short said, “we’re still going to get a lot of people to show up” at the April 12 hearing.
Area has special watershed protections
The report emerges after officials had signaled for months that their authority to heed community sentiment against the station was limited by city code. Mayor Erin Mendenhall told a Sugar House town hall as recently as December the city had few options in its review.
Planners, though, have now concluded the city has a legitimate government and public purpose in barring the station as part of its mandate to defend Sugar House Park and the Hidden Hollow Natural Area, as well as surface and groundwater running down Parleys Creek.
“The proposed gas station at this location,” they wrote, “creates negative effects to the government interest in Sugar House Park and the public welfare intended to be provided by regional parks, Parleys Creek, and Hidden Hollow, which is downstream from Sugar House Park.”
Planning Director Nick Norris confirmed that research and analysis had revealed “a reasonable likelihood” of those negative impacts occurring — impacts that “cannot be reduced through reasonable conditions of approval.”
The study, Norris said, also showed the area falls within a groundwater recharge zoning overlay that protects its crucial role in cleansing and replenishing the region’s water supplies.
“With these findings,” Norris said, “city code requires that a conditional use be denied.”
So although the staff report does not guarantee the planning commission will reject Kum & Go’s application, it does appear to make that outcome far more likely.
City sees ‘detrimental effects’ that can’t be fixed
That site in question, next to a heavily trafficked commercial intersection near Interstate 80, is private property held by a company called Romney Farr Properties.
Kum & Go, headquartered in Des Moines, is leasing the site. The new 3,957-square-foot store is proposed as part of an expansion into Utah the chain announced in 2021.
The parcels are zoned for “community business” uses, and, under that zoning, gas stations are permitted as a conditional use. Under the city’s review process, the 11-member commission is bound to look at the proposal’s “reasonably anticipated detrimental effects,” and it can deny a conditional use permit only if those effects “cannot be substantially mitigated.”
Kum & Go and its Colorado-based planning consultant Galloway & Co. have retooled designs several times as they worked to meet a host of concerns over situating the two-story store with three two-sided gas pumping stations on that 0.83-acre parcel adjoining the park’s northwest corner.
A spokesperson with Galloway & Co. could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
City planners have concluded the project doesn’t meet standards or the intent set out in the Sugar House Master Plan for the park’s amenities, even after multiple changes to its design to make it greener and more pedestrian-friendly.
And while Kum & Go proposes to use development techniques and best management practices, the station’s proximity to storm drains and the possibility of harmful and damaging runoff or a fuel leak make it “not appropriate for the location.”
The report describes the 110.5-acre regional park as a “crown jewel” to residents of Sugar House and the rest of the city. It highlights in particular the green space’s proximity to the award-winning Hidden Hollow area via Parleys Creek, both of which would be highly vulnerable, planners warned, to tainted runoff.
Kum & Go, the report said, “has not provided information that demonstrates that the reasonably anticipated potential for soil, water and air contamination created by the proposed use can be substantially mitigated.”
Water, pollution and traffic concerns
The Sizzler site and the park are also located within a secondary water recharge area, providing the primary way of replenishing groundwater as a secondary drinking water source, the report said, a source that makes up as much as 10% of the city’s water supply.
With the gas station proposed within 350 feet of the pond in Sugar House Park, the report said its underground storage tanks also pose risks of leaking and contaminating the watershed’s soil, water and air. Citing data from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, planners noted 1 in 4 of the state’s 3,604 underground storage tanks were not compliant with leak-prevention standards.
“There is no monitoring system that is 100% reliable to detect releases (petroleum leaks),” planners wrote, “and there is no definitive way to keep leaks from happening.”
Norris acknowledged there were similar concerns with the Chevron gas station located across the street from the Sizzler site. “However, it is an existing gas station,” he added, “and not subject to the same level of review as a new gas station that requires a conditional use.”
City planners also rejected a traffic study provided by consultants for Kum & Go that looked at the safety of the adjacent intersection and connecting stretches of 1300 East and 2100 South, saying that analysis was conducted when no vehicles were actually entering or leaving the property.
“Just because the roadway can physically handle the increase in traffic, does not mean the community can,” planners wrote, pointing to potential effects of additional truck traffic on pedestrians and cyclists. Additional car travel to and from the project, they said, “becomes a concern for the public health, safety and welfare for the community.”
Kum & Go’s plan to direct fueling trucks exiting the gas station to head east along 2100 South could disturb residents along the street and raise safety issues for pedestrians and schoolchildren, the report said, “since this is not a typical route for large tanker trucks.”
Although planners are recommending denial of the application, their report includes a list of 15 conditions to impose on the Kum & Go station if it is approved.
These include monitoring sensors and other advanced technologies deployed on its fuel tanks; landscaping to create a better buffer between the station and the park; additional on-site treatment of surface runoff and stormwater; and a plan to hold Kum & Go accountable for any cleanup and remediation of the property, the park or city property downstream in case of a leak or surface runoff contamination.