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Redeveloping Vacant Gas Stations

May 2, 2022

Gas stations were once an important fixture of major intersections, thoroughfares, and rural communities across the United States. Over the past few decades, however, the number of stations has steadily been declining, in part because of decreasing gasoline profit margins and stricter environmental regulations. There was also a need historically for more gas stations as fuel tank capacities were typically much smaller than what they are today. According to some estimates, the number of fueling outlets throughout the country has nearly halved since the 1920s (an estimated 300,000 locations in the 1920s, compared to 210,120 locations in 1991 and 155,065 locations in 2012) (NACS Fuels Resource Center).

As a result of these closures, hundreds of former gas stations now stand vacant, abandoned, or repurposed for some unintended use. Chances are that you’ve probably seen at least one in or around your community, marked by pavement overrun with weeds and a dilapidated building and canopy. The question has become what can be done with these underutilized, often blighted and dangerous properties.

Vacant former gas stations are a common brownfield issue that many Michigan communities face. One of the most significant challenges to redeveloping these sites is the potential for contamination to be present from previous fueling and other automotive operations. Threats include petroleum spills, leaking underground storage tanks, vapor intrusion, hydraulic lifts, and other redevelopment barriers.

Further, a lot of older former gas stations can have small underground storage tanks remaining that have gone unnoticed or unaccounted for since tanks weren t required to be registered until the late 1980s. This can be a potential environmental concern as once someone owns a property, they also own the tank whether they knew it was there or not. Prospective purchasers will want to assess for this prior to property transaction, and most investigations will require some type of ground-penetrating radar survey to detect the presence of potential tanks.

Assessing and cleaning up these sites can be expensive, making redevelopment difficult for developers and smaller communities with limited budgets. Moreover, these properties are usually small, so environmental costs can sometimes outweigh the cost of the property itself.

With over 30 years of working in Michigan and the surrounding region, Envirologic is the right team to help clients tackle these complex projects. Our seasoned Brownfield Redevelopment Group has extensive experience leveraging state and federal funding sources on numerous project sites. Michigan has well-funded programs that can assist in the redevelopment of petroleum-contaminated sites; one common method is through a Refined Petroleum Fund grant to a local unit of government, brownfield redevelopment authority, or county land bank authority, which can help fund assessment and cleanup. Michigan s robust Brownfield Redevelopment incentives provide additional resources for funding. For more information, check out our info sheet on Funding Sources for Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) Sites.

Despite the challenges surrounding these sites, old gas stations present great opportunities for reuse. Many of these properties are in prime locations — often at corners of prominent, high-traffic intersections, with frontage on multiple roads — that appeal to developers and businesses. Further, these redevelopment projects benefit local communities by reducing blight, returning underutilized properties to productive use, and protecting public health and the environment through site cleanup.

Envirologic has broad experience providing environmental services in support of redeveloping brownfield properties. Several notable past projects where sites were historically utilized as gas stations are included below:

Posted in Blog, Environmental Investigation & Remediation

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