Zoning laws and community opposition make opening a new station on the site of a vacant one unlikely
A decade-old zoning ordinance has made SuperAmerica’s plans to replace a long-vacant station at 40th Street and Lyndale Avenue with a new one much harder than the company initially anticipated.
The 1999 ordinance prevents new gas stations from opening in neighborhood commercial districts — areas including 40th and Lyndale that are zoned C1. Gas stations that opened before 1999 are exempt, but if they close, they have a year to open again before losing their privileges.
SuperAmerica closed its 4000 Lyndale Ave. store — located across the street from another SuperAmerica that’s still open — in April 2006 and it has been shuttered since. To be used again as a gas station, the property needs to be up-zoned to C2, which requires support from two-thirds of the property owners within 100 feet of the site and approval from the Planning Commission and City Council. Both city staff and neighborhood leaders, having been through multiple community forums and a design charrette focused on the future of the 40th and Lyndale node, are skeptical about SuperAmerica getting the community backing it would need.
“In our findings we explicitly state that [the property’s] use as a C2 is something we don’t want to see,” said Matt Perry, chairman of a visioning group called the 40th and Lyndale Task Force and president of the East Harriet Farmstead Neighborhood Association (EHFNA).
SuperAmerica learned about the zoning situation less than a year ago, said city planner Robert Clarksen.
SuperAmerica spokeswoman Linda Casey said the company always keeps its property options open and a decision about the 4000 Lyndale site hasn’t been made yet. She said SuperAmerica is still willing to have open discussions with neighbors and the city about the property.
If the company chooses not to rezone, it has the option of selling the property or using it within zoning parameters. It can hang onto the property as-is indefinitely, Clarksen said, as long as it is maintained and the building is structurally sound.
SuperAmerica purchased and razed a residential lot adjacent to the now-closed station several years ago with the intention of building a larger store and possibly closing the one across the street. Faced with community opposition to the plans, the company took part in community forums and discussions with the 40th and Lyndale Task Force about options for the site, but nothing happened aside from the dismantling of the fuel pumps and removal of the gas tanks.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency started testing for soil contamination early in 2008 and discovered some chemicals. An investigation of the contamination is still underway and expected to be completed in November.
Perry said the 40th and Lyndale Task Force plans to start marketing the property to potential developers in case SuperAmerica decides to sell it. Several local developers have already contacted him about the site, he said.
But Perry knows the property isn’t the neighborhood’s to sell.
“It is essential that we respect the property rights of the property owner,” he said. “If we don’t, then we all would be subjected to a neighbor’s opinion or interest of what we can do with our property.”
Kathy Lawrow, owner of neighborhood boutique Larue’s at 40th and Lyndale, said she’s grown accustomed to seeing the boarded gas station outside her store windows. But she, like many of her neighbors, would sure love to see some progress. A SuperAmerica is fine at the corner, she said, but two is not.
“As long as something happens, I don’t really care what corner the gas station is on,” she said.
Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]