After 10 years of false starts and a failed development opportunity, the new northern gateway to West Lafayette and Purdue University is about to be an “iconic” gas station and convenience store. For a back story, read Dave Bangert’s column: Family Express’ ‘iconic’ plan for old Smitty’s
The CEO of Family Express has the audacity to call their design “iconic” and “bank-like”. A few important observations: this is a 2.4 acre lot in a residential area. That’s a lot of asphalt and bright parking lot lights. Have you seen how bright Mike’s Car Wash is shining down the residences of Huron Street? This development has huge issues, including environmental ones. What happens if neighboring Go Lo is run out of business by a shiny new gas station? With massive fuel tanks buried in the ground, once a property becomes a gas station, it is always a gas station. See 9th and Ferry downtown as an example of a filling station that vacated while the property sat empty for years and eventually became… another gas station. What happens if Family Express fails as a business? Again, once and always a gas station with hazardous tanks potentially wasting away and leaking into the ground. It is nearly impossible and/or prohibitively expensive to revert a lot from a gas station to another use. This is the North entrance to Purdue and the city of West Lafayette has spent a lot of money on Northwestern Avenue upgrades “with fingers crossed” that the right things will come along. Well, crossing fingers isn’t enough, particularly in a legal sense. There needs to overlays, a master plan, architectural guidance, and proactive planning in general for city development. I don’t fault Family Express. They bought a property that was already zoned Neighborhood Business and are holding up their fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to maximize profits. However, I do question the West Lafayette city leadership, West Lafayette Development Office, and the Tippecanoe County Area Plan Commission. Where is the planning? Laissez faire governance leaves us with investment property creeping into historic neighborhoods, monstrously out of scale buildings in single family zoning, and a West Lafayette neighborhood hoping for a a mythical, benevolent developer to come save the day. You can’t just hope the free market will do the right thing for our neighborhoods. What about storm water runoff? Already a major issue in the city, 2.4 acres of concrete and asphalt are going to compound the problem of combined sewage overflows. What about the issue of transparency with Northwestern Heights neighborhood association and surrounding areas? Where is the city leadership when it comes to explaining a deal falling apart (Lor Corp plan) that, albeit not a perfect one, at the least was a mixed use development that could’ve had a lasting, positive impact on the neighborhood. Finally, can you even imagine the traffic jams on game day with tailgaters waiting to gas up and buy supplies? Family Express certainly can. And that’s why we are staring down the face of their square donut gun. When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.