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With brakes momentarily tapped on 15th Ave E development, Hilltop Service Station rolls on under new owner

Closure of Capitol Hill’s Hilltop Service Station seemed inevitable this year after CHS first reported that after 48 years, the family-owned 15th Ave E property was officially promised to developer Cadence Capital for sale in July. Two months later, Hilltop is still a busy garage and there is a new but familiar owner.

“It’s the same great service that everybody is used to, just a little bit scaled down,” said Jim Peters, master mechanical technician who took over the service station this month.

Peters says even after 20 years at the station, people ask if he’s new to the garage. Usually the one under the hood, now he’s the only one left and doing it all himself with the occasional hand from the well known station crew who have gone on to seek their own fresh start when the sale was first announced.

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Longtime owner Mike Burke still visits too but according to Peters, it’s a new business. Though Jim’s Hilltop has a home for now, the future of the 15th Ave East corner is now less clear. There is an agreement — but, apparently, no deal.

After the owner of the site since 1960, Gary L. Bergamini, passed away in 2016, his heirs placed the property with a trust and initiated a search for a buyer. Earlier this summer CHS reported on an agreement from Colorado-based real estate and development firm Cadence Capital, to purchase the property. In the months since the memorandum of agreement was signed, there is not yet a record of any new activity on a sale on file with King County.

Meanwhile, CHS has learned a routine environmental study revealed issues underground typically expected below a longtime service station. Gasoline reservoirs below Hilltop are capable of holding between 4,000 – 5,000 gallons of gasoline each, pumping fuel through lines to the station pumps since 1966 when they were first installed. On February 9, after a two phased site assessment, the Washington Department of Ecology determined that leaks in one or more of the underground reservoirs and the fuel pumps caused a contamination release into the soil below. While contamination does not affect groundwater, and reports consider seepage is as relatively shallow, the Department of Ecology mandated the site to appear on the Confirmed and Suspected Contaminated Sites list until the ground soil is fully decontaminated, a standard practice during development of a property like Hilltop..

Prior to the Department of Ecology’s assessment in February, lawyers for the Bergamini Trust reported to the department last year on November 3 of the presence of soil contaminants independently discovered by Kane Environmental, Inc.. The letter states that “(“Kane”) conducted a subsurface investigation of the Site and confirmed the presence of reportable release(s) of petroleum compounds, at concentrations exceeding Washington State Model Toxics Control Act Cleanup Regulation (“MTCA”) cleanup levels.” The Trust further suggested in the letter that “remediation of the contamination at the Site likely will be accomplished through the Washington State Department of Ecology Voluntary Cleanup Program,” with responsibility for cleanup to be decided among operator, owner, and buyer.

Kane conducted its assessment in June of last year, prior to the gas pumps closing in October, and the Trust notified the Department of Ecology in November. It is unclear if any remediation has been initiated since the last report and recommendation by the Department of Ecology in February earlier this year.

A representative for the Bergamini Trust says there is now currently no sale in process, but there is still an interested party. Mixed residential and retail is the corner’s likely future.

In the meantime, there is more time for Hilltop to continue offering service to the neighborhood. Car owners are still coming for the the experienced hands of Peters as long as he can be there but when it is his time to go, Peters says even though can take all the equipment with him, there’s nowhere he can think of around big enough to set up shop.

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