"Zombie" gas stations haunt a number of prominent sites across Erie County, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, who plans to pressure their owners to redevelop the unsightly properties.
The New York Democrat and Senate minority leader said the sites hinder development in their neighborhoods and are unsafe, potential fire hazards and magnets for vermin.
"We're going to urge the owners of these facilities to work on a redevelopment plan once and for all," Schumer said at a news conference Friday at the site of a former Mobil and Sunoco gas station, now owned by Sunoco Retail, at Abbott and Ridge roads in Lackawanna. The convenience store is boarded up, the pumps are torn down and the lot is lined with concrete barriers.
Schumer cited an April Buffalo News article as bringing the issue to his attention.
United Refining owns five former Red Apple and Kwik Fill gas station properties in Buffalo, Lackawanna, Amherst and the Town of Tonawanda, some of which have drawn the ire of local officials.
In the article, Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said he didn't have a serious issue with the former Red Apple at 1135 Ridge Road, which is a grassy field that is regularly mowed. But he raised concerns about the abandoned Mobil and Sunoco gas station.
"I've hated it ever since I bought my building. It's an eyesore," said Cherryl Daulton, co-owner of nearby Winfield's Pub, which opened five years ago.
Schumer said Sunoco, which operates a gas station across Ridge Road, likely doesn't want a competitor to take over the site. But there are other productive uses for the property.
"We don't need any more barricades. We need businesses," Szymanski said Friday. "It's the busiest corner of our city."
The senator said he pressured Sunoco in 2013 to address a similar problem site on Syracuse's south side that is now an attractive gateway to that city.
"This is a question of inertia, laziness and lack of concern, as opposed to economics," Schumer said.
The five United Refining stations closed between 1998 and 2009, according to state records, and the company has removed their underground storage tanks. Four of them are lined by concrete barriers.
The station in Eggertsville, at Kenmore Avenue and Niagara Falls Boulevard, has annoyed Amherst leaders since the early 2000s. The highly visible property sits at the boundary of Amherst, the Town of Tonawanda and Buffalo.
At Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa's urging, the Amherst Town Board last week voted to start the process of taking over the site from United Refining through eminent domain.
The property at 161 Grant St., near Auburn Avenue, in the heart of the Grant Street business district is similarly surrounded on three sides by concrete barriers.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, has long complained about this former gas station, and two community groups have unsuccessfully tried to buy the property from United Refining.
Three other United Refining properties on Ontario Street in Riverside, on Delaware Avenue in Tonawanda and the Ridge Road site in Lackawanna haven't stirred the same resentment.
United Refining and Sunoco officials did not immediately respond to requests to comment Friday morning.
A top United Refining executive told The News earlier this year that the company has no immediate plans for its former gas station sites.
Executive Vice President John Wagner said the company is willing to hold onto its real estate until it receives the best possible offer for the properties. He conceded the company also does this to prevent a competitor from acquiring the sites.
But Wagner had expressed a willingness to work with the cities and towns here to improve how the properties look.