Urban Gas Stations in Historic Districts

The Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission (IHPC) will be hearing cases related to two gas stations at their hearing tomorrow, September 7th.  It’s fairly unusual to see a gas station proposal for a historic district, let alone two at once.  Here are the locations for the proposals (click links for staff reports on the plans):

The parallels for these cases are numerous:

  • Both are in protected districts.
  • Both have historically been the site of a gas/filling station (about 50 years for the Ransom Place proposal and nearly 100 years for the Herron-Morton proposal) and are already zoned for this use.
  • Both are proposed for relatively small sites that present maneuverability issues.
  • Both are uniformly opposed by neighborhood associations in and around the sites.
  • Both had previous petitions to build gas stations and convenience stores denied by the IHPC.

Unfortunately, while staff reports are available for these proposals, neither includes visuals of the current proposals (note: visuals in this post are from the previously rejected proposals).  Both are now recommended for approval by IHPC staff, with particular emphasis placed on the fact that these plans were drawn up to address the concerns listed in the “Reasons for Denial” for each prior case.  By addressing all concerns, staff sees no reason for the cases to be denied.

A previously rejected siteplan for the gas station proposed at 10th St. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.

Having read through the staff reports, I can’t help but note that these cases seem to be evaluated on different scales.  The Herron-Morton staff report notes that the intersection is a gateway between neighborhoods and particular emphasis is placed on the convenience store siting and the materials used in that building.  As should be expected for an urban design, this plan puts the convenience store directly on the corner with an entrance at the corner and uses high quality building materials throughout.  The Ransom Place plan pushes the convenience store to the far NW corner of the site and wastes valuable land at the 10th/DMLK corner for landscaping buffer.

A previously rejected siteplan for the gas station proposed at 16th St. and Central Ave.

Consider below a potential siteplan for the Ransom Place site (apologies, I’m neither an architect nor a graphic design expert).  It places the convenience store directly on the corner of 10th and DMLK and uses the 10th St. curb cut for the alley behind the adjacent strip mall for entrance to the site.  High traffic volume is an issue in this area but the clear sight triangle at the corner has not been violated.  In fact, by carving out the corner of the building to maintain the triangle, you create an excellent location for a pedestrian entrance off the sidewalk.  By pushing the building to the corner and using the alley for entrance, you also improve site maneuverability and keep the vehicle entrances as far back from the intersection as possible.

A fictional alternative siteplan for the 10th St. and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. location.

I would not argue that gas stations are the highest and best use for either of these sites.  However, if you accept that there is a need for gas stations — and recall that these sites were historically gas stations and are already zoned for that use — we should not accept anything less than sound urban design and high quality building materials.  The Herron-Morton gas station appears to fulfill these expectations while the Ransom Place gas station does not.

Comments 39

  • We, the Old Northside Historic District, have worked for 35+ years to create a diverse, urban historic district. We have gas stations at 9th & Deleware, 16th & Illinois and at 21st & College. The gas station/convenience store is not needed by the residents of the Old Northside or Herron Morton, who both oppose. It mentions that this site has been a filling station for over 100 years. I have lived on the 1500 block of Broadway for over 35 years and there has never been any gas sold at that location. It has sold barbeque and has been a car wash but not a gas station. Needed, I don’t think so. Developer sees a market for comuters from the northside to make their last stop into downtown at this location for gas, coffee, donuts, etc. These commuters drive by numerous locations on their drive downtown and do not need this last opportunity. We who live here should not need to have a 24 hr gas station in our neighborhood if we do not feel that is needed.

    Rick Patton

    • It should be noted that the 100 year history of a gas station at 16th/Central is a citation from the IHPC staff report.

    • In cases like these, it’s important to make a strong factual and accurate case, and that is true for both IHPC and remonstrators. IHPC is clearly wrong about the 16th & Central site, as it hasn’t been a gasoline station for a couple of decades.
      I agree that there is no pressing need for new stations at the locations proposed and that IHPC should deny the requests.
      However, it concerns me that Mr. Patton claims to represent ONS and uses the term “we have gas stations” very loosely. None of the locations he listed is actually in the Old Northside historic district; there are no operating gas stations in ONS. Further, there is no gas station at 21st & College. (There is a station at 25th.) In opposing any zoning case, it is extremely important to get all the facts straight and avoid dramatic overstatements to avoid loss of credibility.

  • Is there a distinction between the two historic districts, such as one is a preservation district and the other (Ransom Place) is a conservation district? I’m not sure if/how that might factor into IHPC’s review of the projects. Nonetheless, if the building is at the back corner of 10th & MLK, that will really further solidify that intersection as a “no pedestrian” node, and further reinforce the divide between downtown and IUPUI, which is West Street/Dr MLK St.

    There’s a decent example of a gas station building on a corner with a street facing pedestrian entrance at the NE corner of State & Pleasant Run Parkway. The convenience store building was built by adding on to an abandoned gas station/ auto repair garage that was built near the corner. The area that once served vehicles on the Pleasant Run side of the building now is exclusively for pedestrian use, while the parking and gas pumps are north of the building.

  • Chris,
    I appreciate you revisiting this gas station issue. However, a design that turns its back on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Street is not the outcome we in the Fayette Street neighborhood are looking for. We’ve got to insist that things get better Downtown for people and the environment and that’s why we can’t support this plan on a fundamental level.

    • Janet,
      Does the Fayette Street neighborhood have a vision for what should be built on that site? I’m definitely not in favor of a gas station but it’s a tough site and I’m not sure what else goes there. Possibly a small student housing-oriented apartment building, but is that really better for Fayette St?
      I’m reminded of the fact that this gas station developer also owns the Citgo at Ohio/East and that convenience store building also houses the wonderful Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles restaurant. A corner-oriented convenience store building with additional retail space could be a good thing for the area and help boost pedestrian activity. Just a thought.

  • I get really annoyed with these “it’s zoned for a gas station” arguments as reason to allow for it. Yeah, and before it was zoned for a gas station, it was zoned residential. I would like to believe we look to the past to help make better decisions about the future. And what I take from the past in this instance, is that a gas station was allowed there when A. the automobile was still a fairly new introduction to the world and B. the ‘well-to-do’ began their never-ending migration northward. I think the focus should be on what does the best good for the most people moving forward? And it is most certainly, NOT permiting this to happen again.

  • I support a Gas station IF and ill say this again IF it doesn’t become another national franchise like Speedway/Marathon. a Family owned gas station would be great though with better competition 🙂

    • At an ealier IHP hearing representatives for the station owners announced the location at 16th and Central will be a Marathon Gas Station. As I understand it, the owners also operate the Marathon at Delaware and St Joseph.

  • Shoul we knock down all the builsings downtown that are higher than 3 stories, you know, so as to not interfere with “some” people’s urban utopia views? If you want tranquility and a 2 acre yard, don’t live downtown. Simple concept really. The gas stations were in those locations before any current resident of HMP or ONS were, and/or their past generations as well. Truem they have not been gas stations for some time, maybe because certain people see to that very fact…..

    I’m very surprised it hasn’t come up yet, because it ALWAYS does…with the HMP & ONS crowd. Ever wonder why the stations Mr. Patton listed (incorrectly, as pointed out) are busy to the point of ridiculousness? That’s right, supply outweighs demand. Another simple concept. Pan handling, really? It happens EVERYWHERE not just at gas stations and convenient stores. It ONLY continues to happen because people continue to give them money. Very simple fix for that, stop giving them money, they will stop pan handling in hte area.

    I don’t agree with a gas station going in at the proposed ocation of 16& Central, but ONLY because the site is entirely too small. What HMP & ONS need to concentrate on is getting Kroger to rebuild and put in a gas station. The land space is there, they (Kroger) just need to be “pushed” in the right direction. Problem is, the boisterous “quasi-ruling” majority of HMP & ONS residents will NEVER agree to a gas station anywhere close them.

    • I agree, it does happen everywhere. I think it is so bad at the Shell because there are so many people from everywhere that use that station due to location and the hospital and the bums just get away with it.
      I do know that Kroger wants a larger store there and they are working on it with the city. Not sure where they are now, but I do know they are working on the plans. From the sounds of things people will propably freak out if Kroger attempted a fuel center.

    • I live in the immediate area and I agree with Thomas. The proposed site on the northwest corner is far too small for a modern gas station however this area of town could use a gas station. The Kroger, one of the first in Indianapolis, is outdated, crowded and has a limited selected. I do recall reading a while back that Kroger has no plans to rebuild or enlarge at this location. Space to enlarge is certainly there. Kroger could easily double the size of their store and include gas pumps perhaps facing Central (expect screaming). And once again, I agree with Thomas, the truth is that it is not the site that locals oppose, it is that locals want gas stations but only in someone else’s neighborhood. Looking back over the years, 16th street is no longer residential, it has been commercial for many years. The fact that this site was residential 50 years ago or forest before that no longer holds weight. All of 16th street was at some time forest and or residential including land for the businesses at 16th and Penn and 16th and Alabama and the land on which the church sits at 16th and Central.

  • As long as the gas station is tastefully done and fits with the Tinker St. revitalivation project it should be a welcome addition to the neighborhood. I would prefer to see an active business of some sort here rather than the dilapidated old building that sits there today. I actually refuse to use the Shell at 16th and Illinois due to the people begging for money every time I stop there. If it is properly managed, kept clean, and built with consideration for the historic neighborhood, go for it! With it neighboring our current Kroger store maybe some progress at that corner could promp a fire under some butts for work to be done and move that project forward for a better grocery store in the neighborhood.

  • The proposed gas station at 10 & MLK is not “tastefully done”. The building is essentially a concrete slab with brick facade!!! IHPC please just say “NO!”

  • I agree with Thomas…downtown is downtown and it’s city living. Gezz…this sounds so strange to hear comments posted to ban a gas station. I relocated from Manhattan last July and believe me people who live in the city do not complain about minor things such as a gas station. Yes, your property values may go down but, that’s the breaks of living in an urban environment. I reside in MK and looking to relocated downtown next year. I believe in the redevelopment but, I understand what comes along with living in a city.

    • “Yes, your property values may go down, but that’s the break of living in an urban environment.”

      And hence another reason for people to not live in the urban environment which makes it more difficult and more expensive for those of us who already do.

      I don’t have any problems with gas stations IF they are designed to complement eh neighborhood surroundings AND have exteriors that are maintained well, the same standards I would have for any restaurant, retail store or other development. Will the facility be a good neighbor?

  • Situations like this are difficult. I live in a historic district, so I certainly understand the feeling of being pulled in both directions, i.e., bound to spend money on compliance with IHPC guidelines for my home while the city may be advocating uses that will depress property values (in my case, I’m thinking of the Indy East homeless shelter proposal). On the other hand, someone owns these parcels, and the purchasers probably bought them with the current zoning in mind. It seems to me that there should be a reasonably high threshold for denying a property owner the right to build a business that is consistent with current zoning and with the IHPC’s recommendations for site design and building materials. I have no idea whether these gas stations truly are needed. I try to avoid filling up downtown because it’s generally more expensive.

    My random thoughts are these: 1) I’m not deterred by the small lot size, because it’s a city neighborhood. Economizing space is good. I wouldn’t want an urban gas station to have an excess of space. 2) one of my pet peeves is seeing a mothballed gas station a couple of blocks from a brand new one. In that sense, I’m not displeased to see a new gas station built on the same parcel where another one existed. 3) Of course, I would rather see a five story apartment/condo building there. Construction of a gas station does not necessary prevent a future use like that, however. 4) I’m fairly disturbed by the idea that residential property owners should have absolute veto power over the commercial use of nearby properties.

  • John, without some neighborhood/historic district control you end up with abominations like Emerson & English: the one still-operating gas station (of four “historic” stations on the corner) is immediately adjacent to one of the oldest houses in Irvington. The Buford-Riches House (1875) is just a couple of years newer than Benton House.
    In the case of 16th and Central, that property has LONG been included in a historic district, so no purchaser who’s done his due diligence could claim to be surprised that s/he has to work with the neighbors.

    • Oh, I’m certainly not arguing against neighborhood input or IHPC oversight. I simply think it gets a little dicey we we start suggesting that the input of residential neighbors is the only consideration for whether a business should be allowed to open, which is essentially what the first commenter said. In essence, it is fine (and inevitable under current conditions) for Herron-Morton and Old North Side residents to fill their gas tanks or buy donuts in someone else’s neighborhood, but is unconscionable for someone else to buy gas at 16th & Central. I don’t mean to downplay the historical significance of historic districts or to suggest that , but what we are talking about is replacing a decrepit, shuttered gas station with a new one. As I said above, I would love to see a multi-use midrise on the property, but if it didn’t happen in the mid-2000s, it’s probably going to be a while.

      • Good point – John. Although, ONS and HM need to understand that business is business and if someone would like to sell the property for a significant amount there isn’t any amount of input from the neighborhood on so-called “historical” site that will prevent it from being developed.

  • Does every little plot of ground need “development?” I suggest that some spaces should be left alone because other existing development has impacted its usefulness negatively. Maybe this should be greenspace. It could be a garden if it weren’t for an asphalt covering. Then again, Jim Walker’s efforts at Lafayette Square have shown you can garden on asphalt.

    • Do you really think additional greenspace is what Fayette St. needs, with the canal almost literally in your backyard and three parks — Fall Creek and 16th Park, Military Park, and White River State Park — all within a one mile radius?

      • How about yellow space? How about a field of sunflowers densely planted, smiling to every person passing by, and creating food for birds, too? Can you sense the wonder and surprise that a plot of sunflowers would create?

  • I agree with Janet entirely. There is simply no reason why the proposed plots must be developed for commercial use. The site should be developed as a small park or simple green area that would encourage pedestrian use and bolster the sense of community that is currently being cultivated. Just an idea but the point is there are other uses for land in a downtown setting that don’t require commercial development yet better the community in a number of ways. Please don’t add another gas station for a lack of creative ideas.

    • Encourage pedestrian use? No amount of greenspace at that location is going to encourage pedestrian use because West Street is so over the top dominating. There are fast cars, lots of them and the sound and pollution generated from them will kill any pleasant pedestrian experience.
      What you are asking requires more than the denial of a gas station at that corner, although adding one isn’t helping either…. West Street is an abomination for people who actually LIVE in this area and would like to walk. There are sidewalks and such there so it is possible, but it sure isn’t a place I’d spend much time quietly deliberating life or playing with my dog. To make this area ANYWHERE NEAR pedestrian friendly, a full on change to how transportation on the west side of downtown is designed would need to occur. And that is a MUCH bigger conversation than one gas station.

  • Yes, Curt there is a huge need for a real conversation about the traffic flow on the westside of downtown especially concerning MLK. The problem with the gas station is not only the traffic but also the effect on any future improvements. I am not a NIMBY member but putting a gas station on that corner would hinder any new road and/or building construction. Are you aware the lots directly across from the proposed gas station are for sale? There’s an opportunity to design an inviting functional space – erecting a concrete building would seriously damper the possibilities.

    Actually there’s a lot in the 1400 of MLK which would be a much better location for a gas station.

  • Does anyone else find it curious that the majority of new commercial development/redevelopment in Center Township over the last five years has been gas stations? 25th & College, Ohio & East, Washington & Hamilton, Michigan & Sherman, New York & Sherman, 10th & Hamilton, I know there’s another one proposed on W 10th (@ King?), State & Pleasant Run, Shelby & Raymond, Madison & Pleasant Run, and I’m sure I’ve overlooked several. Now, we have proposals for 16th & Central, 10th & MLK, 16th & Linwood (zoning approved recently), Washington & Euclid, and Prospect & Keystone.

    What’s driving this demand for gas stations? Obviously, people need gas, but have vehicle miles driven in Center Township increased anywhere approaching the level upon which gas station development has over the past 5 years? I haven’t seen a lot of gas stations close recently. Most all of these new stations were not rebuilds of a recently closed gas station. What am I missing here?

    • I can think of at least three closed gas stations in that time span too: 24th & Meridian, Michigan east of Woodruff Place, and New York about 4000 east, and all of those are near new opens you cited.
      What’s driving this is NOT gasoline. What’s driving it is convenience stores, because grocery stores and Village Pantry locations have closed. There used to be a Marsh at Sherman & Washington and a Kroger on 10th near Woodruff Place, and VP’s near Michigan & Rural, 10th & Rural, and the Women’s Prison. Demand for milk, bread, macaroni and cheese, Doritos, Twinkies, Pop Tarts and Coke ends up going somewhere nearby…in some cases to a new c-store on the same spot.

      • You’ve made an important point Chris. I was recently stopped outside of Mesh by someone who was looking for a place to go buy a bag of chips and a bottle of soda. The nearest place I could think of was the gas station/convenience store and Michigan and Alabama (and then Marsh just a block away).

  • What’s missing from these comments is a discussion of the potential for contaminated soils at either site. Most cities are pockmarked with unusable buildings and sites that because of the associated remidiation costs of these sites, they sit vacant The desired “Mom and Pop” shop cannot (and should not attempt) afford the related costs of cleaning up these siites. These sites are too small for a larger business or government entity to have any interest in them. Yeah, you can waste a lot of time and ink stating that some “responsible party”‘should be held accountable but still the properties will sit. While they sit their unknown undefined use degrades the surrounding properties.
    The operators of the proposed gas stations understand the associated liabilities of these sites. Can afford the remediation costs. The proposed business’s will be managed and insured to prevent future neighborhood environmental issues. It might be in everyone’s best interest to accept the idea that the reuse of these sites as gas stations is their highest and best use. Focus on the design of the buildings with a goal of creating an “approved”‘project. And get on down the road.

  • Petroleum contamination is pretty well-understood and relatively easily remediated (compared to other types of contamination), so a new gas station/c-store on an old site probably doesn’t represent the highest and best use. And it is an intense use, often 24/7 and brightly lit at night, that isn’t appropriate next door to residential properties.
    We don’t focus enough in Indy on the intensity of use when considering zoning cases. And our organizing scheme is decades old; restaurants and gas stations were once far less intense uses. Today, it is hard for me to justify any 24/7 use (fast food joint or gas station/c-store) that draws scores of cars per hour as “neighbor friendly” to residences. Those uses should probably not be allowed by right in any “neighborhood commercial” area regardless of its zoning.

    • I agree 100% with Chris on his latter point. I think it’s ridiculous that a gas station is permitted by right in a C-3 district, which by definition is intended to be immediately adjacent to homes. That doesn’t mean that a gas station shouldn’t ever be in a primarily residential area, but there should be additional design considerations, perhaps using the process of a “special exception”, which is used for tattoo parlors and amusement arcades. When these sites aren’t in historic districts, they don’t require any design review, except that which gets raised tangentially when they can’t meet the development standards of the zoning ordinance, such as having their pump island canopy within 70 feet of the middle of a street (an odd remnant in the zoning ordinance that presumes no buildings should be near the street).

  • Janet and Bently, I disagree with your ideas for greenspace for such a site. Unfortunately, parks and greenspace are only worthy projects if there are enough people to utilize them within that given area. It takes commercial development first followed by proper residential before even considering such idyllic projects. Downtown Indianapolis will never grow without density, no matter what. Right now, for some areas, a gas station may be the start. Just a fact of life. And for all of the ONS and HM neighbors concerned with development of any kind other than park space: what’s your solution for Kennedy-King Park or ATV parks? That’s why
    I’m pro mixed use development for downtown…and sometimes it may have to start with a gas station rather than green space.

  • Micah. I don’t think you’re wrong in saying that these sites don’t need to be greenspace. But I’ve got to disagree with your apparent assertion that a gas station can be a catalyst for residential and mixed-use development nearby. I really don’t think anyone wants to live next to a gas station, and I can’t foresee an increase in the likelihood of any adjacent or nearby properties redeveloping as a result of a gas station being built, especially one with the C-store building at the back of the lot as is apparently proposed for 10th & MLK.

  • I will agree that these two sites could benefit much more without a gas station. The 16th street proposal is rediculous because everyone knows that a future gas station will be developed off Central (which makes sense) IF the new urban concept(let’s hope!) KROGER will come to fruition. I will say I’m not too familiar with the 10th and MLK site. Where is the closest gas station from there? I guess I’m arguing that there is a negative influence with many commercial corridors in Indy being ‘plagued’ with single family homes. There are very few dense pockets of commercial activity…which brings down home values JUST AS MUCH as a gas station, IMPO. So, I guess I’m arguing for increased density through development rather than proposing idyllic parks in areas where the low populations can’t support them…let alone maintain them. And unfortunatley, we need to quit building single family homes.

  • Well, the Herron-Morton gas station was approved. My response to that and many of the responses listed on Historic Indianapolis.com -here’s the direct link:


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