Exxon lets station on Route 1 keep its repair service Corporation relents on plan for convenience store NORTH LAUREL/SAVAGE


For the time being, at least, Savage residents can still take their cars to be repaired at Larry White's Exxon station.

Exxon Corp. has backed off from its plan to remove the station's service bays and replace them with a convenience store.

The proposal met strong resistance from Savage residents who have taken their car repair business to Mr. White for years.

At the oil company's request, a Board of Appeals hearing scheduled for Tuesday to discuss Exxon's proposal, was canceled.

Larry White, the proprietor of the Exxon station at the corner of U.S. 1 and Howard Street, says he's relieved. But he expects another battle when his lease comes up for renewal in September 1994.

"Whatever their reason is for not going forward, it takes the pressure off of me and gives me time to come up with some different ideas," he said.

Mr. White says he's looking at properties in the area so he can continue his service business should Exxon decide to go forward with the convenience store when his lease expires.

The station has been in the White family for 16 years. Mr. White took over the station in 1988 from his father, Don White.

He said that running a convenience store wouldn't be as profitable as his repair business.

"If I want to keep the service bays and the service customers I have now I'm going to have to find another piece of property," Mr. White said.

Exxon's attorney, Frank Hunter, said the company canceled the Board of Appeals hearing to discuss the situation further with Mr. White. He said he doesn't know if Exxon plans to pursue the convenience store proposal.

"Exxon doesn't want to force something down the dealer's throat," Mr. Hunter said.

Over the years Mr. White has established a following of service customers.

When Savage residents heard about Exxon's plans to build a convenience store, they collected 400 signatures on a petition opposing the idea. Residents said they didn't need another convenience store with a WaWa store already in town.

"The station's very convenient to everybody," said Bill Waff, president of the Savage Community Association. "People bring their cars in and walk back home. Without the station we'd all have to go to Laurel or Columbia."

The station provides door-to-door service for many of its older customers, including Catherine Ridgeway.

"I have a little difficulty and they come and get my car, fix it and bring it back," said Miss Ridgeway who sends her car to the station for a tune-up twice a year.

Mr. White said that Exxon's plans for the station came as a surprise to him. He sensed that something was in the works when he discovered signs on his property last summer announcing a zoning hearing.

Mr. Waff did some research at the Department of Planning and Zoning and told Mr. White about Exxon's plans.

An August hearing before the Board Appeals was postponed until Tuesday so Exxon could explain its proposal to Mr. White.

Mr. Hunter said that the station's zoning designation as a non-conforming use makes it impossible to tear down the service bays and rebuild them.

In addition to building a convenience store, Exxon planned to install computerized gasoline pumps to create a "competitive, contemporary gasoline service facility," according to the zoning petition.

Harry Storm, the attorney for the Greater Washington and Maryland Service Station and Auto Repair Association, said many full-service gas stations have been converted to "gas and go" facilities with convenience stores in recent years.

The oil companies see it as a way to increase gas sales, Mr. Storm said, but the trend has hurt dealers who have developed good repair businesses. "Now he finds himself selling Twinkies as opposed to repairing cars," Mr. Storm said.

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