The gas station at 4107 Alabama Ave. in Southeast stands vacant, surrounded by a chain-link fence, and a coalition of neighbors from Fort Davis and Fort Dupont would like to keep it that way.
Opponents said that their neighborhoods are awash in gas stations, with seven in a small geographic area, and that they fear environmentally hazardous leaks. They said they have endured three leaks in 15 years, including two in the 4100 block of Alabama Avenue, and they wonder if the terrain is capable of safely storing gasoline.
Civic associations from Fort Davis and Fort Dupont formed a task force in late March to monitor a proposed renovation of the vacant station. Last Thursday they took their case before more than 50 residents of the Naylor Dupont Advisory Neighborhood Commission, which voted to support their cause and oppose the project.
"We're glad it's been vacant," Johnnie Scott Rice, who is acting spokeswoman for the task force, said in an interview. "Do you know how much gas has been leaked in our neighborhood?"
Alabama PMG purchased the property early this year, and the company wants to invest $1.3 million to build a service station, a Dunkin Donuts and a Baskin Robbins, said president Hossein Ejtemai. The company has filed for permits to replace underground fuel tanks, Ejtemai and city officials said.
"ANC 7B has more gas stations than any ANC in Ward 7," said Leon Hobbs, a Fort Davis Street resident. The ANC has roughly 2,000 residents. "Our children, our seniors and our citizens cannot afford any more spills."
Rice said longtime residents enjoy the parkland, the deer and wild turkey and fear that new leaks could hurt the environment. She cited a leak from a Shell station at the location in 1988 that was not made public until two years later. Gas was found in basement toilets and sewers of nearby condominiums, and two testing wells remain on that property, she said.
City records confirm that a "reported release" of suspected vapors from a former Shell station at 4107 Alabama Ave. occurred in 1988. Three tanks were later removed from the site, according to Venkataiah Sreenivas, deputy bureau chief for hazardous materials and toxic substances at the D.C. Department of Health.
"We do not use the word safe," he said, because the word means different things to different people. "We say that the site must be in compliance with the quality standards."
Proposed new tanks, he said, meet new, stringent environmental standards.
Ejtemai said his company is proposing to install double-walled tanks that prevent leaks. He also said that technological advances have made leaks not only more preventable but more easily detected. His company has hired a consultant to study the land to ensure that it is not contaminated.
He said neighborhood fears about environmental contamination are unfounded. "You cannot find one new facility that leaks," Ejtemai said. "The city of Washington doesn't seem to have a problem with it."