Citizen action may change violent street corner

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ST. LOUIS – A gas station, blamed by some citizens for violence, may be forced to shut down after a judge’s decision. The legal reason, however, may surprise you.

It’s the Shell gas station on Tucker, just north of Washington Avenue downtown. It lost a court fight brought by the Neighborhood Improvement Association Downtown West Inc., and resident Matt O’Leary.

We’ve reported on everything from drug deals to violence. “All kinds of just mayhem,” attorney Paul Puricelli said occurs at the location. Puricelli considered filing court action based on nuisance issues, but says he found a more direct route when he found a zoning violation.

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Puricelli said, “What we ultimately prevailed on was the fact that the city ordinances have always, as long as I can find, prohibited gas stations as a use in the central business district, and I think this is a good sort of poster boy for why.”

He won a ruling, stripping the gas station of its permits, which could lead to a complete shutdown, depending on future rulings.

The attorney for the Shell station, Dan Emerson, declined an interview but told the FOX Files by phone that crime won’t just disappear if the station closes. Emerson believes it was unfairly targeted and that the station owners even hired security to try to make a positive difference. He says they’re now considering their options on the ruling and whether or not to appeal.

Downtown resident Diata Crocket said, “This is not going to stop the crime.”

Crockett also wants action to chill the violence, but he does not think closing the Shell will as he added, “You can’t stop the way people act. If they leave here, they’re going down to the next gas station.”

Plus, he says it’s his closest grocery store.

We also talked to developer Ryan Schulz, who has no dog in the fight and sees several sides. He said, “It’s better to have something there I think than nothing at all. Anytime we have vacant properties, like the ones on Kingshighway that have been vacant forever, what that does is causes crime.”

He says the grassroots action that started with citizens is a good sign. He said, “The community involvement is really important, especially on the development side.”

He also commented on the judge’s decision, which did not address a nuisance but rather an alleged zoning violation.

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He commented, “That comes back to really the business owner, who needs to know from the beginning. Does this work in the area? You have to look at zoning. We deal with it all the time. That’s why it goes through the zoning process. There’s certain stages it has to go through, and you’ve got to make sure. That’s on them. They should’ve known that.”

Now the judge will decide what that means for the future of the gas station. Puricelli said, “He has asked us to propose orders for what happens next. We’ll propose an order that requires the station to shut down.”

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