7-eleven Really Stinks

gas station gas mask

This guerrilla art is tucked behind the fence of our neighbourhood’s less than heavenly 7-eleven. The artist has perfectly captured what most people here really think of the store: it stinks.

Here’s the context behind the art work. Once upon a time that corner belonged to a family that ran a florist’s shop. When they retired a developer bought the property. He decided it would make a great convenience store and gas station. His plan was strongly opposed by all three neighbourhood associations that border the area. Unfortunately we were unable to stop the development and we are now approaching its first anniversary.

What is the problem? My major complaint is that the gas station is placed directly next to a creek. I haven’t measured the distance but the 14 feet referred to in the painting seems a reasonable estimate of just how close that gas station is to the creek bank. I probably don’t need to explain why having a gas station bordering a creek is a bad idea. Its existence is an insult.

But I swear the developers tried to make the project as environmentally unfriendly as possible. They spent weeks pushing the earth into a steep hill. Then they covered it in concrete. As a result, the steep impervious surface is like a water-slide for rainwater.

Where does the water go?  Any Pre-K kid playing at the water table can answer that one. Water always flows to the lowest point. The lowest point on that property is a sluice that feeds directly into the creek. And the thing about living in a subtropical place is that when it rains it doesn’t get all misty — the water falls from the skies in a torrent. If you’ve ever stood under a waterfall you’ll understand what I am trying to describe. That much water causes all the debris and hydrocarbon pollutants that pile up to rush into the creek.

Your mileage may vary but I prefer my drinking water to be free of hydrocarbons. Even more distasteful is imagining how the fish and tadpoles must feel having to swim in that crap.

Here’s another story that illustrates this store’s complete disregard for place and neighbourhood. A heritage tree used to grow on that property. Time and again it was abused during the convenience store’s construction. The City Arborist had to visit the site repeatedly because of the violations. Not surprisingly, that tree died shortly before the store even opened. The person responsible made some talk about ‘replacing’ it but even that token failed to materialize. I am guessing that he eventually decided that writing a cheque for the small fine was easier.

Just how tone deaf was the developer to the community’s concerns? He sent a crew of workers to cut that tree down and remove it on Earth Day Weekend 2014. Really. Maybe he thought we wouldn’t notice because we were all at the Mueller Greenbelt celebrating the holiday!

The community wasn’t going all NIMBY or being precious. We already have a number of gas stations on various corners. Our point was that adding another gas station simply offered no positive benefit for the community. We assumed we’d see more of those gigantic delivery trucks passing through the neighbourhood. We were right. And yes, soon after it opened there was a robbery because that is the kind of thing that happens to 7-elevens.

Besides the increase in dangerous traffic and the threat of violent crime, I really wanted the developer to explain why we should welcome more junk food and litter into our lives. I don’t know about you but I already have enough. Thanks anyway.

How much money has the owner made adding yet another source of pollution to our air, water and soil? When he pays his school tax does he have to add a little extra to offset the cost of tempting our children to eat food that slowly poisons their minds and bodies? Any system that allows one guy to make a lot of money at an entire community’s expense is broken. As the painting suggests: this kind of capitalism really stinks. You can’t just pinch your nose or bury it in a handkerchief  — a gas mask is necessary to ignore this level of ugliness.

I don’t know the artist’s name but I did want to say thank you to whoever painted this.

There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke …
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

This Earth Day I’d like to do something to commemorate that heritage tree’s death but I’m still at the brainstorming stage. Anyone have a bright idea?

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43 thoughts on “7-eleven Really Stinks

  1. I actually represent a 7-eleven Franchise and know for a fact that each franchisee has an obligation to follow state and federal laws and if they do not, then they may be sued by 7-eleven for breach of the franchise agreement. So, it seems to me that the key to toppling this guy would be to identify state or federal laws that the franchisee is violating. I read this on the Clean Water Action website:

    “Austin – Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell welcomed Ellen Gilinksy, Senior Advisor for Water
    for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Austin today, and expressed his
    support for an EPA proposal to clarify which waterways are protected under the federal
    Clean Water Act. When finalized, this proposal will restore protections to headwater and
    small streams and wetlands, including streams that only flow seasonally or after storms,
    but serve as the drinking water sources for over 117 million Americans. This includes
    11.5 million Texans and 864,000 people in Travis County. Ms. Gilinsky is traveling in
    Texas to hear perspectives on the proposed rule, Definition of “Waters of the United
    States” Under the Clean Water Act.
    “Small streams and wetlands, including those that flow only seasonally, have a direct
    impact on the health and quality of larger streams and rivers downstream,” Mayor
    Leffingwell said. ‘These resources are critical drinking water sources, and they protect
    communities from flooding and filter pollutants. Our own Colorado River is fed by small
    headwater streams that dry up part of the year, especially during times of drought, such
    as the prolonged drought most of Texas is experiencing now. If we do not protect these
    networks of small streams, we cannot protect and restore the lakes, rivers and bays that
    our economy and way of life depend on.'”
    Published On:
    07/16/2014 – 14:20
    http://www.cleanwateraction.org/tx

    If your creek is one of the waterways protected under the federal Clean Water Act, then perhaps you can get the EPA involved if there is proof of contaminants entering the water table. At the very least, it appears that the mayor’s office may be willing to investigate such a complaint if it is coming from three neighborhood associations. Anyway, I hope so.

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    1. These guys all talk the talk. But. I remember when that statement came out. The thing is nobody routinely monitors these streams. Collecting proof of hydrocarbon contamination involves dangerous and expensive tests so it is kind of out of reach for ordinary people to monitor in the stead of regulatory agencies.

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      1. I just emailed a friend of mine who is an environmental engineer and this is her reply: “If the creek is flowing taking a discrete sample is next to impossible. What you need to do is install a temporary well point on the down gradient property of the gas station with the soils and then into first water. that’s were you would collect the sample first to see if off-site migration is occurring. You would absolute have to hire a licensed professional to do this kind of investigation. Her best bet is to call the local board of health and report a suspected release. They are obligated to investigate any complaints especially if it involves surface water.”

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  2. This is deeply sad, especially with the death of a heritage tree involved. I don’t have any novel solutions to offer but feel your instinct to plant a tree is a good one. (Hang on Joni, that Tree Museum may be closer than we think!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Actually, I think it was Jim who first suggested planting a tree. My impulse was to make a roadway shrine like people used to do here for traffic deaths. Not sure if that wouldn’t be a kind of cultural appropriation though …

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  3. What a sad story Debra led by money and greed, developers have so much to answer for. Planting a tree to celebrate Earth day and offset the loss of the Heritage Tree with your community may be one answer and I hope you find something positive. To celebrate Earth Day over here we just turn our lights off for an evening, your post makes me think that I should do soothing more proactive and at least plant a tree if not more.

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    1. Thanks for reminding me to be positive because to be honest I have a desire to shame this guy for what he has done. I know that won’t lead to anything good of course.

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  4. Always a shame when developers mar the place in which we and wildlife live. But with the density of your city, what else can be done but build and build. They should be more sensitive, but with space running out, it is always nature that will pay. In this case it looks like people pay too.

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      1. True, but an increasing population makes building infrastructure and needed facilities all the more necessary. Is your city increasing in population or declining is the real question. Here they build because businesses get funding and tax relief, so it is more economical to build new than it is to renovate or use existing structures. The new building gets abandoned in 10-15 years too, when the obligation to remain runs out and tax benefits fade.

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        1. Eco services (clean air, water, soil and food) are far more important in the long term than this so-called infrastructure service. The other 5 gas stations in the neighbourhood don’t seem to have any problem supplying through traffic and locals with their gasoline needs. This development was an unnecessary duplication. He built his station because it was easy to do so (business as usual) and the rules for development didn’t require any kind of creative thinking or requirement to consider community needs or wishes. As land becomes more scarce it needs to be treated as a precious resource rather than as something to be exploited. The rules need to be changed so that development comes last instead of first. One man’s greed should never trump a whole community’s best interests.

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          1. There are stringent regulations on building gas stations and installing pumps. I think if you looked it up, I bet he had much red tape to navigate. As a naturalist and environmentalist at heart, I agree with you it hurts the environment and quality of life, but there are far too many other considerations that are run by bureaucrats and business which have nothing to do with what you or I think.

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            1. Of all the people I read online, I am pretty sure you are aware of what is at stake here. I spent ages researching this because I just couldn’t accept the idea that anyone could consider this project a reasonable thing to do. The rules I found didn’t look stringent at all and the more I looked at the details the scarier the situation became. I can’t fault the city workers. There were a lot of departments willing to help make this ugly situation better but they were constrained by the plethora of pro-business rules and policies. The hopeful thing I saw was that with all that goodwill found in the community and even the city I believe that there is broad support for demanding saner development. The destruction of this planet is not inevitable.

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              1. Not rules, but a quagmire of building, fire, EPA , state and more – codes that govern siting, building and maintaining – especially with combustible or leaking liquid gas. In many places, I am sure businesses get around codes illegally (can be city code enforcement), but generally they can stop or delay many projects if not followed to the letter. I never designed a gas station, but have worked on brownfield clean up sites in preparation to build structures I designed. Sadly, many of these sites cannot get past regulation or have the budget to see a project to the end. The problem with all this is that there are just too many people in this world. A problem with NO solution.

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                1. I have looked at those rules and guidelines and they are wanting. The city did use what was available at the time but those rules clearly weren’t enough to stop this particularly wasteful and stupid project. And as you mentioned in your earlier comment — none of these things are ever intended to last. No matter what regulations are in place today the laws of thermodynamics and the habits of greedy people tell us that over time the outcome will very likely be a toxic site. A person who can’t even treat an old tree with care isn’t likely to put much effort into maintenance. The community that opposed its construction will end up paying to clean up his mess. I disagree that population is an impossible problem. I strongly disagree that it was the source of this issue. I have never seen even a line up at the current stations. This gas station wasn’t needed, wasn’t welcome and chances are very good it will prove to be a long term problem.

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  5. ditto all above , this is the sorry state we live in – our park in bega had a no of lovely mature eucalypts great for shade on hot days but a new mob came into town – a woolworths mall – behind the main street no less and the park got refurbished – oh the plans that went on the community consultation the endless letters and protests. down came the trees and some pretty pavers laid down and now market day is a very hot affair and the not native trees planted are too small to offer a bird any solace. one hand cannot see what the other is doing and money speaks loudest…
    boycott the business plant a tree care for the creek…. failing that scream
    Sandra

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    1. The thing that I found most surprising about this was the good will of ordinary people and how nearly unanimous they were in wanting to protect this little bit. I thought I was the only one worried about this but I wasn’t. Ordinary people do care — the trick is to somehow get those people with the money and power to understand how much we care.

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  6. I hate to say it, but it’s the same in every city. All the city councils want is more tax dollars to pay for other unnecessary pet projects they have in mind. It doesn’t matter what type of business it is or where it’s located, as long as it brings in a few more dollars to the city’s coffers. What the residents of any particular neighborhood want or need is secondary. For years we had an open area behind the homes on our street, between the homes and a much-used but not too bothersome four-lane. In the last 5-6 years two businesses have gone in back there. One has a lot of trucks that drop off and pick up whatever so it can get loud on occasion. The other is relatively quiet. Now an auto repair shop is going in. Thankfully there’s still a narrow strip of unused property backing up to our fences, due to utility easement mostly. But we’re all waiting to see what happens. Also thankfully there’s no more land for anyone else to build on. Meanwhile, our street hasn’t been repaved in 20 years while streets in other area of town that “host” important events seem to get “prettied up” every couple of years. I could go on….but I won’t! Maybe your neighborhood could get together and build a mountain on the other side of the 7-11 so all the water flows toward it!

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    1. It is the same everywhere. I wonder if these elite people will ever understand the true value of land? haha You have sparked an idea … I probably could build a mountain — I’d just have to collect the litter left strewn around the building everyday! Ahhh … maybe a papier mache tree from that waste ….

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  7. This is awful….the laws are always easily bent by commercialism at our expense….the best folks can do is not shop there.

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    1. Here’s the problem: even if the locals boycott (and I am pretty sure most of us avoid going there) it is placed in a way to attract through traffic — people who don’t care about this place and just see it as a quick gas stop or a place to grab some beer.

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  8. I’d be rallying concerned local homeowners to plant another tree in their own yard to commemorate the one lost. You could give them suggestions of a few types of small, medium and large trees to choose from. Even if only three or four folks joined in, it will go some way to replacing the one lost

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    1. Luckily we live in a green neighbourhood — in spirit and fact. If you see it from above it looks like a forest. I dare say most people would be hard put to find a space to add a new tree. But I really like your idea of rallying people and making whatever we do a group action.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a tragic loss of that old tree, not to mention the degradation of the whole area. I often wonder at the disconnection that so many have towards our planet. What are they thinking? It sounds like the EPA should be contacted – there is supposed to rainwater basins for all new construction.
    I like Deb’s idea of surrounding the gas station with vegetation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought that because water was involved that it would surely enjoy some kind of protection and like you I thought of the EPA but the fact is the rules and laws all favour unrestricted development.

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      1. Is this because it is Texas? I’ve heard their laws favor human ‘progress’ at the expense of the environment. Clearly, they don’t see themselves as connected to their environment!

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        1. A great many science teachers have somehow failed this culture. We are all part of one planet and the laws of thermodynamics do apply even if they are inconvenient to greed. I didn’t look beyond the Texas and City laws but as far as I know it probably wouldn’t have mattered. The regulations for gas stations looked just stunningly lax.

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  10. This is a very sad story, one that is all too frequent. The concrete hill is beyond comprehension. It would be great if every homeowner in the neighborhood planted a heritage tree, and if those immediately adjacent to the gas station would plant a row of them near the property line. How nice if it even would be possible to plant a heritage tree in that fourteen foot space between the gas station and the creek! Surround that eyesore of a gas station with trees!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A heritage tree here is a legal term — it means a tree of a certain age and size entitled to protection. The one that was destroyed was a slow growing oak and so not easily replaced. I think they built the hill because the ground was too hard to dig and they have to bury the petrol tanks. Just another indication that the site was totally inappropriate for this use.

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  11. If I was in your place I’d be angry, the kind of mad that makes a person want to dump a mega-load of manure on his front lawn.

    A small bit of the way I feel about unregulated fracking.

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    1. I do still feel a bit angry but mostly it is a sense of horror. Yeah, the fracking thing. Another example of shortsighted waste and destruction.

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  12. And it doesn’t help when the Austin City Council rolls over and pees on itself, so thrilled that developers want to build, build, build in Austin. The New Way is the same as the old way. We’re having a similar issue in our neighborhood, but instead of listening to City of Austin taxpayers/residents, the City Council knuckles under to an out-of-state developer who has made no efforts to compromise work with neighbors.

    Sorry about your creek, but I fear there are just too many people (some of whom we’ve elected) who think another gas station is more important than your damn creek.

    Bitter? Me. Nah.

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    1. I do feel the city deserves some kudos. The arborist did come out to the site many times. And there were a few departments that found some very lax rules that forced a few (tiny) compromises. But generally it was business as usual which means uncontrolled development and the tragedy of the (unregulated) commons. We really need to treat the last bits of land available with more care.

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