That’s My Dump!

photo/Chris Busby
photo/Chris Busby

The Mobil station on Riverside Street, at Maine Turnpike Exit 48, has gone the way of another old Mobil that was located less than a quarter-mile away, at the corner of Brighton Avenue. That Mobil, profiled here back in 2008, was torn down in 2011 and is now an empty lot. This one could be around for awhile.

Dumps like this are especially vexing eyesores due to their location at so-called “gateways” to the city. First impressions matter, and the impression conveyed by a vacant and dilapidated gas station is not a welcoming one.

The Mobil at 90 Riverside St. manages to tarnish the image of both Portland and Westbrook. It actually straddles the border between the two burgs. Granted, the strips malls, the strip club and the chain restaurants in its vicinity don’t help.

This Mobil has been abandoned for four or five years, according to Westbrook city planner Molly Just. Its towering sign (high enough to grab the attention of motorists on the ’pike) is gone, leaving a skeleton of metal supports to frame the sky. The pumps have been removed and paved over, but the upper framework of the pump installation in front remains, bent backward at an awkward angle that suggests it’s been (or is being) battered by tornado-force winds. It’s vaguely unsettling at first glance.

The vacant Mart part of this Mobil is relatively clean (the ceiling tiles are still intact). The wall of empty coolers, glass doors liberally plastered with promotional stickers, also exudes a subtle post-apocalyptic spookiness.

Westbrook’s property-tax records list the owner as Portland Associates II LLC. My attempt to reach Sandi Cummings, principal of the Massachusetts-based company, ended with a disconnected number. No code violations are on record for the property, just a “notice of intent to remove underground oil storage tank facility or underground product piping,” dated March of 2013.

A new owner could face numerous challenges if they tried to redevelop this property. The front of the site is encumbered by utility rights-of-way. Potential environmental risks make redeveloping a gas station more expensive than, say, fixing up an old office building. And then there’s the inconvenient fact that though most of the property is in Westbrook, the driveways are technically in Portland.

Portland’s planning and urban development director, Jeff Levine, said state law requires that both cities’ planning boards review the site before any redevelopment plans can move forward, unless both boards waive that stipulation and agree to let one take the lead. Furthermore, “the development might be subject to different zoning requirements in the two different cities,” Levine said.

If you decide this is the perfect location for your business, bring scissors — there may be a mountain of red tape in your way.

— Patrick Banks