Sleepless near SuperAmerica

Gas station neighbors say new security system is a nuisance

THE WEDGEIt’s not easy living next to a busy gas station.

Neighbors of the SuperAmerica at 2200 Lyndale Ave. S. know this. For years, they worked with station managers to cut down on panhandling, crime and litter near the 24-hour station.

Noise, in particular, frustrated neighbors, who complained of customers shouting, slamming car doors and blasting car stereos at all hours of the day and night.

“There’s constant noise problems,” said neighbor Steve Benson. “It’s like living next to a party house.”

For Benson and others who live nearby, it’s bitterly ironic that a recent effort by SuperAmerica to address those problems has only made things worse. Now, it’s the station’s blaring new security system waking them up at night.

“The system has become the problem,” Benson said.

In March, SuperAmerica installed a video surveillance system designed by the security firm Westec, which monitors the cameras from a remote location. If Westec employees spot suspicious activity, they can access the gas station’s intercom system and give the customer a warning or, if necessary, call police.

Carol Wilson, who lives across the street from the station, said those warnings reverberate off nearby buildings. When they come at 3 a.m., “you get blown out of bed,” Wilson said.

No closing time

SuperAmerica spokeswoman Linda Casey said the Westec security system was only installed at about 12 or 13 of about 150 SuperAmerica stations in the metro area.

“There aren’t a large number because it’s a very expensive system,” Casey explained.

Still, safety concerns at the 2200 Lyndale Ave. S. location prompted SuperAmerica officials to make the investment.

Police records show there were 118 calls for service in 2006, up from just 64 in 2000. The upward trend appeared to continue through the first half of 2007, with 65 calls to police by the end of June.

In addition to the security system, the gas station is also monitored by an off-duty police officer on weekend nights. A new manager who has “strong experience with inner-city stores” was brought in over the summer, Casey added.

“This is action that is being taken in response to the community’s concerns,” she said. “We’ve been working diligently with the neighborhood.”

But many neighbors thought a more effective solution was to close the store at night, at least for a few hours. On weekends, in particular, the parking lot fills up around the 2 a.m. bar closing time.

After discussions involving neighbors, the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association (LHENA) board and police earlier this year, it seemed like that was a possibility. Then, in June, a SuperAmerica manager visited the LEHNA board and said closing was off the table.

Casey said the decision to stay open was “based on traffic through the store.

“It’s a business decision as well as a safety issue,” she said.

A late-night ‘phenomenon’

Insp. Kristine Arneson of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct was one of those pushing the store to close for a few hours around 2 a.m.

Arneson said she was concerned about increased criminal activity at and around the station, especially after bar close on weekends. She saw larger crowds gathering at the station in the early morning hours.

“It’s kind of a phenomenon we have all over where [bar patrons are] not done socializing, so they find a … gas station or convenience store,” she said.

Arneson said the phenomenon mostly affects gas stations located near major highways that are open late at night. Two that dealt with a similar situation in the past were the Old Colony gas station at 1621 Washington Ave. N. and Bobby & Steve’s Auto World at 1221 Washington Ave. S., she said.

In June, the owners of Bobby & Steve’s bowed to city pressure and agreed to close from 2:15 a.m. to 3:45 a.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The agreement followed an increase in police calls and three shootings near the Downtown station within two-and-a-half years.

“My real concern over there … was this (SuperAmerica) would become like Bobby & Steve’s did Downtown, a gang hangout or an after-bar crash site,” Arneson said.

Arneson was not able to work out an early closing time with SuperAmerica, but she said the new manager and increased security were at least a start to addressing criminal activity.

The small things

Wilson, only half joking, said it was her “dream” to live next to the SuperAmerica station at 2501 Hennepin Ave. S.

Unlike like the station across the street from her house, on Lyndale — where Wilson points out littered cigarette butts and loiterers — she found the Hennepin Avenue station much cleaner, with “well-trained, helpful, courteous” employees.

“That’s what we used to have down here,” she said.

It was when management lost the emphasis on the small things — like sweeping up cigarette butts — that bigger problems started to crop up, she argued.

Arneson said Wilson might be on to something.

“If you don’t take care of the small things, then you’re signaling to people this is a good place to come and act out,” she said. “You’re putting a sign out that says, ‘We aren’t watching.’”

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