ST. ALBANS CITY — An effort to upgrade the site of the Clarence Brown gas station on Federal Street while preserving the historic character and feel of the site has hit a snag – zoning laws.
Andy Hoak, of Ruggiano Engineering, presented a plan on behalf of Jolley Associates to the city’s Development Review Board (DRB) Monday night to replace the current pumps, buildings and underground tanks at what is known to be the longest continually operating station in the state.
The plan calls for a new attendant booth based upon the design of the current booth, with pumps for passenger vehicles in front.
“We understand that this is a very historic site,” said Hoak. Although the building was not included in the city’s historic district, it was built in 1932. “We’re trying to recreate the historic building,” he added.
Jacqueline Brown, the daughter-in-law of the late Clarence Brown, endorsed the effort to preserve the character of the site. “It’s certainly a landmark,” she said. “Generations of people have gone through that station.”
Clarence Brown began selling gasoline out of cans to cars on Federal Street in 1929. The building followed. Brown also had a fuel dealership, which was sold to SB Collins and Jolley Associates in 2011.
Clarence Brown’s is the only station in the city where attendants will pump gas for customers.
Currently, some of the gas pumps are located in the public right of way. The plan would shift the entire site, moving the dispensers from within the right of way while keeping the general proportions of the site, explained Hoak.
The plan incorporates two parcels – 70 and 90 Federal St.. The three-bay garage at 70 Federal would remain, but all other structures would be removed and replaced.
In addition the plan includes a 10-foot wide green space along Federal Street and a five-foot sidewalk that will extend along both parcels and then north to connect with existing sidewalk. There would be two curb cuts with granite curbing in between.
A 48-foot by 32-foot canopy would cover the passenger car refueling station. A separate 40-foot square canopy would cover a truck refueling station.
The city’s regulations currently call for all gas pumps to be placed behind buildings and landscaping, and for refueling canopies to be attached to buildings.
Several members of the DRB expressed approval for the design, but said it would be difficult to grant a permit for it under the current zoning rules. “I personally like it, but I’m hung up on the regulations,” said Michael Walsh, to which other members of the board expressed their agreement. “It is making a non-conforming site better,” he noted.
Rebecca Pfeiffer suggested Jolley could apply for a variance.
Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development, noted that rules can be changed, and that the planning commission has not had a chance to discuss the impact of the new rules on the Clarence Brown site. The planning commission is charged with crafting the city’s zoning regulations, which then must be approved by the city council. The change to the rules for gas stations is a relatively recent one.
The proposal still has to go before the Design Advisory Board (DAB). The DRB cannot render a decision until it has received input from the DAB. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for June 3.