GROSSE POINTE FARMS — To go along with its change to a Shell station this year, the former BP Gas Station at 19100 Mack Ave. — at the corner of Moross Road — has a new sign. But Grosse Pointe Farms officials objected, not to the sign, but to the lighting of the sign.
At issue was illumination of the Shell logo and the full red and yellow band that runs around the canopy over the gas pumps. The lighting was the subject of a sign appeal in front of the Farms City Council Dec. 4.
The station is owned by the Birmingham-based Barbat Organization, which also owns a number of other gas stations throughout metro Detroit.
Mayor Louis Theros was among those who said the Barbat Organization didn’t present the new lighting plan with its sign proposal to the council earlier this year. He said he recalled the council approving the red and yellow banding, but not the lighting.
City Manager Shane Reeside concurred.
“I think the initial plan showed both the Shell logo and the (red and yellow) banding around it. … I don’t think we ever had any discussion on lighting,” Reeside said. “I think there was a miscommunication.”
Barbat Organization CEO Scott Barbat said he had talks with Reeside and Public Service Director Terry Brennan, and he thought he had gotten approval for the lighting.
“I think it looks beautiful at night … and I think it’s very unique,” Barbat told the council. He also said that the business “is beautiful … is clean (and) I think it’s very safe.”
Barbat argued that the band lighting was “somewhat backlit,” which Farms ordinances allow, but officials disagreed.
Theros criticized the new owners for some of the decisions they’ve made.
“I think this is the eighth misunderstanding we’ve had with you,” he said, noting that several past promises — including to sell only craft beer and wine, and not to sell individual-sized alcohol bottles, which he called “airplane bottles” — haven’t been kept. Theros said the station now sells “double (sized) airplane bottles” and bargain brands of alcohol.
“I would ask you to never have a misunderstanding with us again,” Theros continued.
Barbat apologized to Farms officials.
“I’m here to cooperate with you,” he told the council. “I cooperate with you on everything.”
Barbat said they have taken action at the station in keeping with requests from the city, including ending alcohol sales at midnight and eliminating the sale of 50 milliliter shot bottles.
Theros said he looked at other gas stations on Mack, and all of those only had lighting under the canopy above the gas pumps. He said “very, very few” stations have full illumination, even on larger and busier roads such as Gratiot Avenue.
“I think you’ve got plenty of under-lighting for safety,” said Theros, pointing out that the station building is also lit, as is the monument sign on the corner, which “is very bright.”
“At a certain point, there’s light pollution,” Theros continued. “There’s so much light under the canopy (already).”
Andy Dervan, a Farms resident on Fisher Road, voiced his reservations about the lighting.
“I’m disturbed the plan was submitted (to the city) without lighting, and now they have lighting,” he said. “It’s lit enough as it is.”
The council ultimately voted 6-1 in favor of allowing only lighting on the Shell logo, not on the band as well. City Councilman Lev Wood suggested this compromise option, and Barbat said that if the council would approve it, he would be all right with this decision.
City Councilman John Gillooly cast the sole dissenting vote.
“I think (the extra lighting) looked very good,” he said. “I think the extra illumination would help in terms of safety.”
Public Safety Director Daniel Jensen confirmed the latter assertion.
“From a safety perspective, the more lighting, the better,” Jensen said.
After the council rendered its decision, Barbat said he’s gotten “great feedback from the community” on the switch from BP to Shell.
“There was a big miscommunication to begin with, but I appreciate their cooperating in at least meeting me halfway” and allowing the Shell logo to remain lit, Barbat said of the council vote.
This isn’t the first time the station has drawn the ire of Farms officials. After the former owners sold the station circa 2016, the gas station applied for a liquor license so that the new owners would be able to sell alcohol there. Despite objections from city officials and a number of residents, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission approved the request.
Officials had a number of concerns about the sale of alcohol there, including safety; Jensen said his officers routinely respond to calls about larcenies and the presence of what he said in 2016 were “undesirables” at the station, which is located at a busy, major local intersection.
While police haven’t necessarily seen a spike in crime since liquor sales began last year, they haven’t seen crime plummet, either.
“I haven’t seen a significant reduction (in crime),” Jensen said at the Dec. 4 meeting. “I think it’s on par” with previous years.