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Outspoken owner to sell proposed car wash site

(ran EAST, SOUTH editions)

A long-running controversy about a proposed car wash has entered a new phase with the anticipated sale of the property. Michael Grubbs and buyers from Norris and Samon Pump Service expect to close the $135,000 deal Monday on the lot at 2300 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. N, once the site of Sterling Cleaners.

Neighbors in Greater Woodlawn, Crescent Lake and Crescent Heights fret about the aesthetic of a coin-operated car wash on M.L. King and the noise levels and hours of operation. Contrasting with Grubbs' legacy, Jared Samon said he and his father, Joel Samon, are willing to work with neighbors.

Sterling Cleaners burned in 1999. Grubbs already had set up Value Cleaners at 1800 Fourth St. N and said another dry cleaners would not make economic sense. He asked neighbors in Crescent Lake and Greater Woodlawn to endorse a car wash on the old Sterling site and was turned down by both.

After the Greater Woodlawn meeting in May, Grubbs erected a sign threatening to put an "Adult Fantasy Super Store" on the lot. Grubbs took down the sign the next day, saying he was only joking. Neighbors weren't laughing.

"Michael was a little aggressive on the what-he-wanted-to-do side," said Rodney Brown, a project manager for Stillwater Technologies, which would design the car wash. Brown and the Samons met with a Greater Woodlawn committee Monday to discuss the latest car wash design, which will go before the association's membership in January.

The committee agreed in principle to a modified design that: reduces the number of entrances and exits to a two-way strip on M.L. King and 23rd Avenue N; and eliminates an access from the alley parallel with M.L. King. Brown also said the exit onto 23rd Avenue N would swing toward M.L. King, discouraging turns into the neighborhood.

Neighbors also are pressing for antique-style acorn lamps, in keeping with the area's evolving residential theme of historical restoration. They worry about noise from car stereo systems and machinery, and wonder what will happen if the business does not succeed and is abandoned.

"I don't think anyone's real thrilled with a car wash going in there," said Greater Woodlawn president Cathryn Wilson.

Grubbs said: "I was just trying to fill a need, and the neighbors didn't want it. . . . Ninth Street is a commercial street. I don't think the neighbors realize that."

Solvents left over from the dry cleaning plant might limit an owner's options for what kind of businesses to put there. The property is on the state's toxic waste cleanup program for dry cleaners, with a rating of 28 on a scale that tops out around 150.

The rating comes from a formula assessing chemicals in the ground and their nearness to any drinking wells, said Bill Burns, an environmental manager for the Department of Environmental Protection. Burns said getting around to cleaning up the Sterling site will take "many years."

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