Early this month, Bobby and Steve's Auto World, 5801 Nicollet Ave. S., moved another step closer to business expansion, gaining approval from the city Planning Commission amid neighborhood protests that the project is too big.
The two sides agree that something needs to be done with the site.
Paul Warnert, co-owner and manager of the Windom neighborhood Bobby and Steve's, said the new plans include a convienience store, a repair shop, gas pumps and a car wash. He said the expansion, which will take out one building and two houses, will be a big improvement to the area.
"We have to do something with that corner," he said. "I'm somewhat embarrassed about the way it looks."
Warnert said the expansion also meets more local demand for gas. He said there are no gas stations on Nicollet from 54th Street past I-494.
Many neighbors agree that something needs to be done with that corner, but say an expansion is too large for the neighborhood. "People don't want it, it's not appropriate," Windom resident Allison Little said.
Little said Bobby and Steve's should instead clean up their existing corner property. She said the existing facility produces too much noise, and there are safety concerns surrounding the large tow trucks and narrow alleyways. She said because the owners live in the suburbs, they aren't as invested in the neighborhood.
Little said the neighborhood's objections are also based on the Minneapolis Plan, a comprehensive city plan designating that stretch of Nicollet as a community corridor, reserved for mixed-use, low-intensity businesses. Little said the building plans are not low intensity and violate the plan.
This is not a new dance for the neighbors and Warnert. One year ago, Bobby and Steve's presented very similar plans to the city. The Zoning and Planning Department and the Planning Commission approved the plans, but the neighbors appealed, halting any construction.
The city council voted to uphold the neighbors' appeal, preventing expansion. The owners of Bobby and Steve's then filed a still-pending lawsuit against the city, stating that there was no legal right to deny the plans. They want the denial reversed and compensation for damages and legal fees
"We were properly zoned and not asking for any special variances," said Warnet, "I'm asking the city to stick to the law that's out there."
Approved plans in limbo
Little and other neighbors attended and spoke against the project at the Planning Commission hearing July 8, when the plans were again approved. She said the commission approval was wrong and the commission merely humored neighbors by letting them speak.
"They just want to rubber-stamp it," she said.
City Planner Jim Voll presented the planning staff's findings to the Planning Commission. He said the C2 zoning allows for these types of business plans, but the Minneapolis Plan also states the area is a limited intensity use.
"We don't have any standards saying what's low intensity and high intensity," Voll said. "There's an element of subjectivity."
He said the Planning Commission must decide what intensity is acceptable for the area and approved the plan because it conformed to the zoning code. "They felt the zoning brought certain rights with it," Voll said of the commission's decision.
Council member Gary Schiff, chair of the council's Zoning and Planning Committee and the council's Planning Commission representative, took a different view. "I felt the neighborhood had a point that the C2 parcel of land on a community corridor is different than a C2 on a commercial corridor," he said.
Schiff said he made a motion to remove the car wash but that was defeated.
He said he anticipates that this will not be the end of the neighborhood debate. He said three out of the four corners of the intersection are zoned C2, leaving the possibility for larger propositions in the future.
"This is a sign of things to come," he said.
Little said neighbors will appeal the new decision to the council, again stopping the expansion. The council's verdict will stand unless courts intervene.
Windom resident Linda Frichtel said she would be happy if the carwash were eliminated, because the area doesn't need one and it would reduce the proposed development's size.
"There is a compromise that can be done here," she said. "That's all we can ask for really."