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Arlington rejects self-service gas stations

Self-serve gas stations are allowed in the vast majority of communities in Massachusetts.

Gregory Bull/Associated Press/File

Self-serve gas stations are allowed in the vast majority of communities in Massachusetts.

A bid to bring self-serve fueling stations to Arlington ran out of gas on the Town Meeting floor Monday night, leaving the community as one of the last in the state in which an attendant must pump gasoline for customers.

By a voice vote, Town Meeting rejected a proposal to begin allowing self-serve gasoline stations after its lead sponsor, Town Meeting member Carl Wagner, changed his mind, citing unintended consequences of altering the local law.

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Wagner said his proposal did not do enough to keep full service from disappearing completely at gas stations, and also would not prevent “mega­stations” from moving into Arlington.

“It needs more work,” Wagner told Town Meeting before urging the body to reject his proposal.

Arlington, which enacted its ban against self-service pumps in 1975, is one of a dwindling number of communities in Massachusetts that require full service at gas stations.

Weymouth, Milford, and Upton also do not allow self-serve stations, but the state fire marshal’s office, which regulates staffing and safety plans for all self-serve stations, does not keep a list of which communities require full service, and was unaware whether any others ban self-serve stations.

By a majority vote, the Board of Selectmen had backed Wagner’s original proposal to change the local laws and allow self-serve gasoline, said the board’s chairman, Dan Dunn. In its report to Town Meeting, the board said the ban on self-service gasoline sales is outdated and no longer sensible.

“Technological advances since the introduction of self-service gasoline sales in the market have reduced safety hazards associated with the practice,” the board reported. “Removal of the ban will make Arlington competitive with surrounding communities that offer self-service gasoline sales.”

The proposal to bring self-serve gasoline to Arlington had drawn mixed reviews from local service stations and motorists. Some service station workers said motorists are often careless at the pump, which leads to accidents including people driving away with the pump’s hose still in the vehicle’s fill spout. But others have said allowing self-service would improve the ability of local gas stations to compete with those in surrounding communities.

Wagner said he thinks selectmen voted correctly on the idea that Arlington can move forward from a 1950s-style law. However, he said, after the board had initially voiced its support for the change, he learned from town inspection workers that if his proposal was approved by Town Meeting, Arlington would have to allow stations that would have no full-serve gasoline, and there would be no limit on the size of gas stations.

“Although some of you might think I’m a crazy person for wanting to have self-serve, I think everybody would probably like to have full-serve, self-serve, and not have a change in the feel of our gas stations,” Wagner said. “So I ask you to resoundingly vote no.”

Wagner said he has been pleased to learn that other processes underway in the town, including a comprehensive review of local zoning bylaws, could revisit the question of allowing self-serve gasoline stations.

Brock parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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