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West Side gas station could be a dog park

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If Stephanie Johnson and her West Side neighbors have their way, the old Sunoco station at the corner of Greendale Drive and Washington Street could soon become a dog park, or maybe a children's park.

First, though, Johnson needs to ensure the property is free of environmental hazards.

Like other former gas stations, the .71-acre site at the foot of the West Side hill once hid underground storage tanks. And its soil was likely contaminated by gasoline that overflowed from car fill pipes and oil that washed from the garage floor.

Johnson, director of the West Side Main Street program, recently obtained a $5,000 grant from the West Virginia Brownfields programs. The program is aimed at helping folks reuse contaminated (brownfields) sites.

Working with Patrick Kirby at the Northern WV Brownfields Assistance Center at WVU, Johnson and other grant winners will meet in June to decide how to use their money. It could go toward more soil testing or feasibility studies, she said.

"Since I've been here, this is the site I get the most calls about," Johnson said Monday beside the fenced-in property.

"I get calls about once a month: 'Do you know what's going on? Are there any grants available?' Most are from Edgewood residents."

As she was talking, a woman from Mama Rosa's Pizzeria across Washington Street walked over to ask what was happening with the property.

"This is such an important place for the community," Johnson said. "West Side Main Street is eager to use this grant and future resources towards the development of this site. Ensuring the community is heard is our top priority."

Two ideas have risen to the top, she said -- a dog park and a children's park. "The only concern with a children's park, if it's not fenced in, is safety. Washington Street traffic gets a little fast."

Because the property lies within its West Side Community Renewal District, the Charleston Urban Renewal Authority has also been keeping an eye on the Sunoco site, said CURA Director Jim Edwards.

"Obviously we're interested in seeing the property redeveloped," Edwards said.

"The key to that is the environmental condition. We have been talking with the [state Department of Environmental Protection]. The report back from them is most of the work has been done and the rest will be done so the property can work into private hands.

"So we're trying to facilitate the property being made useful again."

According to Edwards, DEP has already removed the underground gasoline storage tanks from the privately owned property. But a tank utilized for storing used motor oil is still on site, he said. He was not sure whether contaminated soil had been removed or remediated.

CURA recently had the site appraised, for $250,000 -- a step the agency normally takes before buying property.

"It's a corner property, very visible, in a commercial district," Edwards said of the high valuation.

"At this point we're just trying to make something happen," Edwards said. "If we do need to be involved directly, we would consider doing that. There's been no formal decision on our part, pending the environmental report.

"If we can play a constructive role in getting it redeveloped, we'd have an interest. We don't want to be a property owner; we want to see redevelopment of the property.

"[The use] could vary. At one extreme a public passive use, or a commercial re-use. We don't have any bias one way or the other."

CURA already hosts a dog park in the East End on a site it would like to sell for redevelopment. The Sunoco site "could have an interim use too," Edwards said.

But asked if CURA would be interested in owning a permanent park, he said, "Probably not. We'd probably want to transfer ownership to the city if it were going to be a public space."Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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