Marathon Station to Be Rebuilt, with Art

Sunday, September 18, 2016, 7:45 pm
By: 
Michael Teager

Above: Architect's rendering of the art planned for the Marathon gas station redevelopment.

East Lansing’s City Council approved a site plan at last Tuesday’s meeting (9/13/16) for a complete rebuilding of University Gas and Wash. This is the property known to most people as the Marathon gas station at the southeast corner of Abbot Road and Saginaw Street. The plans include an artistic component in order to comply with East Lansing’s relatively new “Percent for Art” requirement for some commercial development.

Above: The property as it looks today.

Planning Director Tim Dempsey provided an overview of owner Andrew Barrone’s plans to completely rebuild the gas station, convenience store, and carwash as a single building, including underground fuel storage tanks, gas pumps, and canopy. The original gas station was approved for construction in 1968. The site has undergone various changes and additions over the years (for example, the carwash was added in 1975), and, according to Dempsey, the cost of a renovation is such that it makes a complete rebuild a reasonable option.

Above: redevelopment site as shown from above.

Other proposed changes include the removal of three trees and addition of twenty-two shade trees, as well as the addition of a privacy fence along the eastern line separating the property from the Abood Law Firm. The new vacuums will be placed along this eastern fence and toward Saginaw Street, situating them farther from the neighboring law firm. Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier asked about the loudness of the new vacuums, and Dempsey replied that they are considerably quieter than the current ones.

The site will go from three curb cuts (driveways) to two. Currently at the property there are two separate curb cuts on Abbot Road in close proximity to each other, and one on Saginaw Street. The two curb cuts on Abbot Road will be reduced to one in order to alleviate congestion at the Abbot/Saginaw intersection. (The two existing cuts are directly adjacent to the post office’s exit onto Abbot Road, currently making three entrances or exits next to one another at a major intersection, as shown on the image below.)

The staff report on the proposal supportively describes this as an improvement to the existing site. The site plan was also unanimously approved 8-0 by the Planning Commission.

Dave VanderKlok, principal architect with Lansing’s Studio Intrigue Architects, LLC, described the project as the “most difficult less-than-an-acre site I’ve touched.” He said that current code requirements and property boundary coupled with a desire to maintain a unique look made it particularly challenging.

As an example of the challenge, the length of a modern automated carwash is significantly larger than those built in the 1970s, and a new one fitting within the existing property and layout was an obstacle. Because the new facilities will be within a single building, the new carwash will now sit behind the convenience store.

VanderKlok said that, given the changes to the energy code over the last decade, the new site and facilities will be much more energy efficient.

In addition to bike racks, the new site will have a bicycle staging and repair area. Dempsey likened these to the repair sites along the Lansing River Trail. Meadows asked if free air would continue to be offered, to which VanderKlok replied in the affirmative. The site plan is shown here:

The single biggest point of discussion Tuesday centered on sidewalk width along Abbot Road. Councilmember Altmann asked Dempsey about sidewalk width and bike lanes. In the site plan, the sidewalk along Abbot Road was proposed to remain the same, maintaining its 5’ width. (Saginaw Street currently has and will maintain its 8’ sidewalk under the plan.)

Councilmember Erik Altmann asked why the Abbot Road sidewalk at the site wouldn’t be replaced or expanded to 8’ to accommodate bicycles. He pointed out that the Abbot Road bike lanes disappear between Saginaw Street and Whitehills Drive to the south to accommodate the northbound left turn lane, and that bicyclists then have to continue sharing a 5’ sidewalk with pedestrians instead of the standard 8’.

The “bicycle gap” can be seen on this map of trails and pathways, with a close-up here:

Additionally, a CATA bus stop is located on Abbot Road in front of the post office, adding to congestion along the sidewalk.

Mayor Mark Meadows noted that the neighboring post office also has a 5’ sidewalk and no bike lane, so addressing the issue for the gas station would still leave a gap between Whitehills Drive and Saginaw Street. Meadows agreed that this is an issue, but said that requires “a bigger plan” beyond one site to accommodate bikes near this intersection.

City Attorney Tom Yeadon suggested, with Dempsey’s support, the possibility of adding a “conditional condition” for the site in which 3’ would be added to the sidewalk if and when Council decides to expand the bike path along the area, affecting adjacent/multiple properties. Council was receptive to this idea, and amended, 4-0, condition #5 to reflect this change.

Commercial projects of this financial size now require contribution to public art under the “percent for art” ordinance that was promoted by former mayor Nathan Triplett and passed by the last City Council. To meet the site’s public art requirement, the plan for this site describes six “8’x8’ changeable art panels to illustrate the creative work of artists from the community (including school children).” The design is shown below.

The changeable panels would be “paired with repurposed car hoods (used as awnings) to accent and provide uplight for the works.” The public art component is subject to separate Arts Commission approval under the Percent for Art ordinance.

Before the final vote, Meadows commented upon the “beautiful design” proposed in the site plan and praised the Barrone family as being “dedicated to this community for many years.”

The site plan was approved 4-0, with Councilmember Shanna Draheim absent.