On Monday evening, emotions ran high at a town hall meeting held in the visitor center at Roselle Park. The meeting saw a union of the Ada Community in a fiery, adamant front against the possible construction of a gas station by the J&H Family Stores and Oil Company on the corner of the already turbulent Knapp and Pettis intersection.
The McCraes’, who have owned the iconic corner property since before Forest Hills Eastern’s construction, claim that it’s been suggested to them that their land would be the perfect setting for a gas station since the moment they moved in.
Currently, while a price has already been negotiated, J&H and the McCraes’ are under contract with contingencies. Before any further action is taken, a specific legal protocol must be followed. One contingency is the current zoning of the land that the property is on. According to the Ada Township Master Plan, the corner is currently zoned as “Rural Preservation 1”. Stated as the “establish[ment] with the intention of designating certain lands located north and east of the Grand River for single-family dwellings in a very low density, rural setting”, Rural Preservation 1 is meant to ensure the preservation of the “distinct natural and rural character existing in this area” of Ada. One of the common fears expressed by residents is the potential loss of the tranquility that attracted them to Ada in in the first place. While Craig Hoppen, the president and CEO of J&H Oil Company, feels that the 12,000 cars that pass by the intersection on the daily would be more than enough to sustain a gas station, the surrounding homeowners feel that the implementation of a gas station would drastically alter the peaceful countryside of Ada. “If we wanted convenience, we would have moved near convenience… we moved here to get away,” were common sentiments muttered throughout the evening. “Many residents move to Ada to enjoy the natural, quiet, rural setting. A gas station/convenience store would change the dynamic of the current peaceful setting,” stated Kelly Van Dyke, a resident of Grand Valley Estates and a speaker of the night.
Another step is a mandatory notification of surrounding homeowners within 300 feet, and a recommended meeting for J&H and the property owners to gage the sentiments of the community. “What tonight is, is a meeting with the property owners, J&H Family Stores, and … neighbors and residents,” said Abby Hoppen, the marketing director of the J&H company. “Before we go through [any] steps, we just wanted to get the community’s feedback. Good, bad, indifferent, it’s just a talk. There’s no plans, no breaking ground, nothing like that… It hasn’t even been brought to the city yet, in an official capacity.”
No matter how benign J&H expressed the meeting to be, the surrounding neighbors and Ada residents responded to the proposed gas station with a wave of backlash. Out of the crowd upwards of 150 people, all but one raised their hands in a display of opposition. In her speech, Kelly Van Dyke reiterated the main concern of residents: children’s safety. She cited the EPA, stating how “a gas station can be hazardous next to a school due to air pollution, soil and groundwater contamination, heavy vehicle traffic, and the dangers of accidental spills of hazardous chemicals.” Other concerns include the increase in traffic and resulting accidents, the distractions a gas station may induce, and the potential of minors having access to items such as cigarettes, alcohol, and vaping items. J&H argues that it will be unlikely that they will sell alcohol due to the very short distance from school-owned land, and that they have a very high success rate in keeping vapes out of the hands of youths under the age of 21.
The second main concern is the environmental impact of installing a gas station and the possible contamination of the aquifer which lies underneath the intersection. “Gasoline dripping from overfilling seepage… will runoff into the soil and forever pollute the aquifer [which] provides drinking water [for] Grand Valley Estates, Treebrook, Montreux, Egypt Creek, the water tower, and Forest Hills Eastern Middle/High School,” stated Kelly.
However, Abby Hoppen ensured that the gas station’s adjacency to the school would be more beneficial than harmful — an extension of the community rather than a parasite. “We support a lot of the schools that we build next to,” she declared. “There’s a program called the Local Education Foundation Grants, where every year we give $500 to the math and science [programs] for every community that we’re in. We also do yearbook ads, and sports team sponsorships, so it’s a chance for us to really be engaged in the community…” In a final statement to the students of Forest Hills Eastern, Abby restated that “ [J&H] is a good community company, and we always… do our best to do things the right way…and if [anyone] has questions, they can reach out to us at any time.”
When asked what he wanted the students of FHE to know, CEO Craig Hoppen replied that he wants us and the community to know that “[J&H] isn’t trying to ruin anyone’s lives” and that he thinks the store would be a true “asset to the community”.
While the outcome of the gas station drama is hard to predict, it can be assured that Forest Hills Eastern’s eyes will be on the little white house on the corner.