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North Avenue gas station in Wauwatosa nears final approval

Oct. 31, 2012

A North Avenue gas station proposal, shot down by withering disapproval in a Plan Commission meeting in August, survived renewed criticism from neighbors of the site, and came away from Tuesday's Community Development Committee meeting with a 7-1 endorsement.

Alderwoman Kathleen Causier, whose 2nd District includes the site, praised the plan, but said she could not vote against the will of her constituents.

The Common Council will consider the plan next week.

Businessman Ajit Walia proposed a gas station for the corner of 106th Street and North Avenue, across the street from Mayfair mall, months ago. Discouraged by its reception at Plan Commission, he didn't even show up for the Community Development Committee meeting the matter was referred to.

Encouraged by Alderman Brian Ewerdt, he finally did present his plan to the development panel last month, and was asked to come back in six weeks with a traffic study.

Tuesday, Walia put forward a traffic impact analysis of more than 50 pages. It considers a wide range of variables, and was produced by engineer Donald Lee of Traffic Analysis & Design, based in Cedarburg.

Little impact on traffic

Lee, boiling down his findings, said Walia's proposed small gas station would have about the same impact on traffic that the drive-thru credit union that once occupied the site had.

"It's basically a wash, an equal comparison from a credit union to a gas station of this size," Lee said.

The most problematic customer movement would be vehicles leaving the gas station on 106th Street, moving north across one lane of Mayfair traffic, and then turning left, or west, onto Mayfair, he said. But again, he estimated that fewer cars would be doing that from the gas station than had been doing it from the credit union.

Another feature of the traffic study was an estimate that half the cars stopping at the station would be "pass-by traffic" - that is, cars already traveling on North Avenue that stop for gas, and would be continuing on in the same direction after their purchase. Except for their movement into the gas station, they aren't significant additions to traffic.

Lee also presented a slide showing the movement of delivery trucks. The routes showed the trucks passing through an alley on the south side of the station, and not coursing through the neighborhood further in. Director of Development Paulette Enders said City Engineer Bill Wehrley recommended that, of two sizes of delivery trucks given as options, the smaller be used as a condition of operation.

"Even the small delivery truck uses the full roadway," Enders said.

Potential owner is flexible

Walia said he preferred to operate the gas station from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., but that he could live with 5 a.m. to midnight. And, he said, delivery trucks would typically be delivering gas between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. But he was flexible on that, suggesting other times that might work.

He said the site is a good one for a gas station for the reasons he has listed at other meetings: all the other malls in the Milwaukee area have a gas station nearby, the nearest stations to the North Avenue site are a mile away, and that nearby hotels, Walgreens and the mall itself create a commercial nexus.

Neighbors still not pleased

Neighbor Gary Metz said the area around the site is quiet and that people and children often use the streets to meet and play. He predicted that cars would come through the subdivision seeking a shortcut or to make a U-turn instead of going back out to North. Fast traffic coming off the expressway onto Mayfair Road and turning right onto North would be a bad combination, with cars moving into and out of the gas station, he said.

And, he added, "I don't know how you get that (delivery) truck in and out of there."

Others hit on similar themes.

"We are so boxed in, there's so little land left … is this the best fit?" asked Judy Fleming, who owns nearby Manhattan Textiles.

Alex Livesey said that from her house her family can hear conversations under way at the bus stop on North, and she worries that a noisy station, and its delivery trucks, will disturb the sleep patterns of her young son. She said the other malls with gas stations don't have residents living right behind them.

Property a tough sell

Kristian Sydow, of Grubb & Ellis, who is marketing the property, said a variety of potential uses have been considered for the property, but all potential buyers have rejected it. He said Walia had a proven track record in the gas station business, had invested a lot of money in the traffic study and should be given consideration.

Walia said, as he has said before, "Every neighbor is my customer, too - if they're happy, that's the only way I survive."

He said he would be open to adjustments in operation if his neighbors find certain things objectionable.

Alderman Dennis McBride moved that his application be approved, with a handful of conditions, including use of the smaller trucks for deliveries, conforming to delivery times set by city staff, not selling alcohol, 5 a.m. to midnight hours of operation, appropriate signage to keep traffic out of the neighborhood, a parking lot plan and other elements as approved by city staff and the Design Review Boards.

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