Underground tanks to be removed at closed gas station

Exxon Mobile pledge buoys Oakland Mills

January 28, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Residents of Oakland Mills village are hoping that Exxon Mobil Corp.'s decision to remove underground gasoline storage tanks at the closed gas station on Stevens Forest Road means new life is imminent for what resident Barbara Russell called "a boarded-up eyesore."

The giant oil corporation confirmed Friday that the station's underground tanks will be removed before a Feb. 8 deadline set by state environmental officials. Company spokeswoman Betsy Eaton would not reveal Exxon Mobil's plans for the station.

Amid worries about keeping the planned town's older villages attractive as they age, Howard County and Columbia officials are anxious to have a working enterprise on the site, next to the main entrance to Oakland Mills Village Center.

They say the vacant gas station delivers exactly the wrong message to visitors and prospective home buyers.

State and village officials said they have been told unofficially by Exxon Mobile representatives that the wooden building will be demolished and the site sold for redevelopment.

Don Barrick, a commercial real estate agent with Century 21 H. T. Brown, said three potential buyers had expressed interest in the property.

One, a developer, has no specific proposed use, while the other two are interested in building a restaurant or crafts store.

"There's a tremendous amount of interest in Columbia," he said, though the cost of land is so high that businesses need high traffic locations to succeed.

Russell, the Oakland Mills representative on the Columbia Council, said she is pleased that Exxon Mobile is taking action.

"I think that's excellent. It's been our intention and effort to eliminate this boarded-up eyesore. We absolutely want to have something happen there," she said.

Village Manager Erin Peacock agreed, though she said, "The village would have preferred they re-open the gas station. If not, we'd prefer that they market the building."

In the meantime, she said, the village will continue pressuring the company to maintain the property.

Mick Butler, program administrator of the Maryland Department of the Environment's oil control program, said Exxon Mobil has notified the state that the tanks will be removed.

He also said that a company official said informally that the company plans to demolish the building and clear the site, though county officials said they had not seen an application for a demolition permit.

Eaton said Exxon Mobil "has made no final decision on the future of the building" or the site.

Removal of the underground tanks is being done merely to comply with Maryland law, she said.

The state requires that underground tanks either be removed or put back into use within one year of a gas station's closing to prevent fuel from leaking.

The station, one of the oldest in Columbia, was closed without warning in September 1999, and the building has remained vacant and boarded up since.

The Rouse Co., Columbia's developer, spent more than $4 million to redesign and renovate the village center, which reopened with a new, 42,000-square-foot Metro Food Market two years ago.

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