South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Proposed South Side service station has neighbors concerned


August 14, 2012

A meeting about a proposed service station offering compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as conventional gas at 700 E. Carson St. elicited more skepticism than neighborly welcomes.

The presentation by the development team was held on August 7 at Saint John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church, located across from the proposed site.

In attendance were pastor Father John Chirovsky, Deacon Alex Wroblicky, and about 35 parishioners and local residents, many of whom raised concerns about increased traffic and traffic congestion, safety, noise, security and more.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) wanted all the stakeholders to meet, calling it a "good faith effort for all the voices to be heard." But, he said, consensus does not have to be reached.

The hearing before the ZBA was on August 2.

The area is zoned "general industrial."  Three variances are being sought for the service station: minimum 20-feet rear setback required, with 0-feet requested; minimum 5-feet rear setback required for parking stalls, with 0-feet requested; and minimum 150-feet from any residential district required, with 40-feet requested.

The hope is to open the station about April 1, 2013.

CNG is made by compressing natural gas to less than one percent of its volume at standard atmospheric pressure, and it is primarily methane. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it has a narrow flammability range, making it as safe as gasoline-powered vehicles.

"It's half the price of gasoline," said Andrea Feinstein, of Leah Holdings.

Currently, there is no access in Pittsburgh for choosing CNG as a motor fuel choice.

She said American Natural plans to build a number of service stations in Pittsburgh, with the South Side station serving as the flagship station. She expects five new CNG stations here within the next three years.

She said the concept would be rolled out broadly to Pittsburgh so the South Side station would not be the only site attracting traffic.

To a question of "why this site?" she said, "We love where it sits. We think it is a wonderful site to introduce Pittsburgh to this."

The site will have 45 parking stalls, remain open around the clock, and feature an eatery with food items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. All parking will be on site.

"There will be really good salads for lunch," she said, calling the selections "quality foods that respect the budget."

Questioned whether local fire insurance rates will increase, she said ownership will have insurance for the station, and that there would be no financial repercussions to the neighborhood.

To a question of off-premise signs, attorney Jonathan M. Kamin, of Goldberg, Kamin & Garvin, LLP, said there can be none. However, if a billboard is eventually sought, they would have to adhere to a host of city processes.

But city regulations allow an unlimited number of pole signs on the site.

Deacon Wroblicky's questioned if they would have contracts with commercial fleets. Ms. Feinstein said the company has such contracts, but not specific to the South Side site. Eventually, they would be spread across Pittsburgh.

Asked whether there is a projection of the number of vehicles the station would attract, Ms. Feinstein said they expect a subset of the 15,000 vehicles which travel Carson St. daily, but no additional ones.

Benjamin Kelley, development manager for Oxford Development Company, the project's developer, said a traffic study commissioned by the development team showed no significant impact from the presence of the station. The study was not a requirement, and served as a business model.

He also said it would have no impact on bicycles, which an attendee disagreed with, saying many bicyclists use the bike trail on 7th St.

To a concern about large trucks, Ms. Feinstein said there would not be a steady flow of delivery trucks, fuel delivery would occur once a week, although there would be daily food deliveries. Mr. Kelley said it equates to far fewer deliveries than if it was an industrial site.

As for the time of deliveries, Mr. Kraus said the variance can contain conditions limiting the times, and that the ZBA many take it under consideration.

Deacon Wroblicky requested a copy of the traffic report. He also asked if any plan was in place in case of train derailment, as occurred in the 1980s.

Ms. Feinstein said it would be provided prior to the opening.

To a question about the church building's unique architecture, she said she respects the church and the history of the South Side, and that the architecture of the eatery is intended to reflect the South Side somewhat.

But because the design will be the national look, it will not be a perfect match to the area. As for construction times, it is part of the city code when building can occur.

At the meeting's conclusion, Mr. Kraus said another meeting would be scheduled in the near future.  He reminded attendees that it is important to have conditions written into the variances.

The developer returns to the ZBA in about five weeks.


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