Replacing Open Space with Another Gas Station is No Improvement

I am writing to oppose the proposed Big Y Express gas station and convenience store complex on Halls Road in Old Lyme.  Old Lyme has a year-round population of approximately 8000 residents (per oldlyme-ct.gov), which has recently increased as populations have transitioned from dense urban areas to the suburbs.  Old Lyme is a desirable destination thanks to the great school system, picturesque natural environment, and high standard of living.  Nobody is moving here for our gas stations or convenient marts, and the damage to the rural character at a key entrance to town should not be ignored.  

According to fueleconomy.gov, the number of gas stations in the United States has declined steadily over the past 27 years, from over 200,000 in 1994, to 168,000 in 2004, and by February, 2020 MarketWatch reported that number had declined to approximately 115,000.   Since the population of the United States in February 2020 was approximately 331 million people, each gas station serves approximately 3000 residents (compared with 1300 residents per station in 1994).  The declining numbers reflect declining demand as Americans transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric cars, and progressive states, such as California eye fossil fuel phase outs as early as 2035.  The trend is also evident in Connecticut as ideas to replace fuel tax revenues with tolls and other more sustainable sources are explored. 

Old Lyme currently has 4 operational gas stations, 2 of which include convenience marts, so residents enjoy one station for every approximately 2000 residents, or about 50% above the national average.  One gas station is already located a single property address away from the proposed location on Halls Road.  Although some aesthetic upgrades were made recently, the location still requires significant improvements to fit the future vision for Halls Road.  A second gas station on the same stretch of road is unlikely to help.  The abandoned station on Neck Road remains a permanent reminder of what will eventually become of unnecessary gas stations as nationwide demand for fossil fuel powered cars declines. 

The proposed location may be convenient for through travelers, but it is clearly not suited for a high traffic “express” style station.  Discharging cars and large trucks onto the narrow stretch of Route 156, where bike lanes are already marginal will create an unsafe situation that will not be easy to control.  A proposal for affordable housing just to the south was rejected by residents largely due to traffic pattern concerns, including expectations that signage or other restrictions on dangerous driving maneuvers would be impossible to enforce.

While the environmental impact remains under review, nobody can argue that replacing open space with another gas station would be an improvement.  In a town with ample existing gas station options, is it worth the risk to the surrounding watercourses to save a few cents per gallon?  The potential future costs, including but not limited to cleanup of sensitive watercourses, contaminated soil removal, and habitat destruction should be sufficient to convince most residents that the ecological risk is not worth the temporary monetary savings.  

The Halls Road Improvement Committee has been working diligently to motivate quality of life and aesthetic improvements to our “downtown”. Big Y Express will only detract from the hard work they have dedicated themselves to completing.  I oppose this proposal and hope the committee can continue their work without the threat of a Big Y Express derailing their plan.   

Craig Taylor
Old Lyme, CT

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