Fueling is second-nature to many; often acting simply as a minor pit stop. But neighborhood growth has led to an influx of filling stations along North Shepherd, T.C. Jester, and other local roads in recent years – which has been striking to some, but a non-issue for others.
Just between Durham from just south of Loop 610 up North Shepherd to West Tidwell (five miles), three Shell stations and a Gulf Station take up residence. Up and down T.C. Jester Boulevard, there are two stations (with a third currently under construction). In the Heights – just down the road from one of the Shell stations – an Exxon is currently under construction near 16th Street, which begs the question: is the need truly that great that such an influx is necessary?
“Every time we pass [the construction near T.C Jester and Tidwell], my daughter talks about how sad she is that they cut down all of those trees and asks why we need another gas station when there are already two. I agree with her,” Oak Forest resident Sarah Honore said.
According to Forbes, companies selling similar products – such as gasoline, general convenience items, etc. – cluster for a simple reason. Any viable threat of competition forces companies and stores to try to pick a spot which can simply attract the most people, which often times results in clustering due to observance of success from other stores. And though the number of retail fueling sites in the U.S. fell from 202,800 to 152,995 — a 25 percent decline – between 1994 and 2013 and down to 150,000 in 2015 according to the National Association of Convenience Stores, the clustering principle has not wavered.
Several residents shared the sentiment that the principle applies not just to gas stations, but also chains such as Wal-Mart, CVS, Kroger and others.
“If a store is doing well the similar stores will move in to try and have the same success. It’s the nature of business and is at the heart of the fast food business,” Michael Duffy said. “It’s no mystery why they are opening – there are just more people in the hood then there used to be.”
“[This is] capitalism at its finest. Free enterprise not restricted by government rules and regulations. The American way,” Chad Cox added.
According to Scientific American magazine gas stations can still pose hazards to nearby neighbors. Dangers include ground-level ozone caused in part by gasoline fumes and groundwater hazards from petroleum products leaking into the ground. Additionally, some neighbors say the general impact can be greater on quality of life and depends on how well a station or convenience store is maintained.
However, gas stations must follow stringent modern health and safety guidelines. Zoning is also used by many local governments to guide growth to locations where benefits are maximized with minimal harm to quality of life.
“It depends how well kept up they are. They need to be diligent about chasing off the panhandlers,” said Shepherd Park Plaza resident Jeff Berlat.
“I feel like the convenience stores are fine and welcome as long as they aren’t partnered with smoke shops and liquor stores,” Oak Forest resident Eric Ochoa added. “No offense to smoke shops and liquor stores, but sadly they tend to bring down the demographic in the area.”
Others see no current or future issue with the clustering, given that no station physically sits on a residential street. And even in a city such as Houston which has no strict zoning regulations, the Community and Environmental Defense Service calls it difficult to envision a situation where a convenience store and gas station would be a compatible use in or adjacent to a residential area.
“How is this even an issue? Durham is not a residential street. All of the gas stations/convenience stores are going in on non-residential streets like Pinemont, and the new one on the 290 feeder [road] at Milwee,” Oak Forest resident Fred Heller said. “Now if someone wanted to build a gas station on Nina Lee, I would have problem with it. But no one is doing that, and it wouldn’t make good business sense to do so.”