Transforming Washington service stations into "gas-and-go" stations -- self-service-only operations that do no auto repairs -- emerged again as a controversial city issue last week after more than five years' absence.
Exxon's plans to modernize its "Call Carl" service station at Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW, turning it into a self-service only "gas-and-go," brought opposition from city planning officials in writing and from the station's Northwest neighbors, who held a protest rally at the station over the weekend.
And Shell's plans to turn a New York Avenue NE service station into a similar all-night "gas-and-go" operation received a chilly reception Monday at the first hearing of the District's newly formed Gasoline Station Advisory Board.
The District, like Maryland, in 1976 imposed a moratorium on switch-overs to "gas-and-go" stations to help preserve the traditional full-service gas stations where motorists can have their gas pumped by attendants and get emergency car repairs.
The american autombile Association and other consumer groups have charged that the trend toward gasoline-only stations has left many sections of car-clogged Washington, including the downtown, almost totally without repair service.
Of Washington's 232 conventional gas stations, 62 are self-service, gasoline-only stations, according to city officials. The city has lost overall about 100 gas stations in less than a decade, as oil companies have closed and sold small and marginally profitable stations.
An amendment to a District law which went into effect last year allows oil companies to change an additional 7 percent of their stations into "gas-and-go" stations if they can show the station has financial problems and there are other full-service stations nearby.
Shell station owner George Wallace told the station advisory board that even with an advertising campaign for a $13.95 oil-change-and-lubrication special, he made an average profit of only $51.11 a month from his garage bays in the three months he has owned the station.
Wallace added that although he sells more than 100,000 gallons of gasoline and 700 to 800 cans of oil a month, there is little demand for garage work along New York Avenue NE -- one of the busiest entrances to the Nation's Capital.
Shell has 15 service stations in Washington, two already gasoline-only, and under the law may convert one more to "gas-and-go".
While no citizen spoke against the Shell application, a letter of opposition was filed by Call Carl, a chain of Exxon service stations that includes one on Mount Olivet Road NE near the Shell station. The letter, read at the hearing, claimed the New York Avenue NE area already is "overburdened" with self-service gas stations and there are "not enough (full-service) stations to take care of the motoring public."
Ironically, Call Carl operates the Exxon station at Connecticut and Nebraska NW, which also is proposing to switch from a full-service station to an all-night, self-service operation.
Exxon, owner of 66 gas stations in Washington, plans to turn three additional stations into self-service units under the District's 7 percent exception.
Exxon and Call Carl have not yet appeared before the advisory board, but will need its approval to switch to a "gas-and-go" station. They have, however, scheduled a June 10 hearing before the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment for approval to tear down three small stores in order to enlarge the existing station.
Exxon claims that tearing down the three stories -- a laundry, a liquor store and a real-estate office -- will enable it to double the station's size and end traffic jams in and around the station, according to district manager Richard Klein.
Residents claim that a larger gas station, especially a high-volume, all-night station, will bring increased traffic to the largely residential neighborhood and pose hazards for pedestrians.