Retail for now, mercury remediation maybe later

Nolan Properties development analyst Kim Van Dyn Hoven presents a plan to fix up a former Jiffy Lube site to the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council on Tuesday. (Photo by Zac Farber)

A contaminated former Jiffy Lube site near the Whole Foods in West Calhoun could soon become a restaurant, coffee shop or fitness studio.

In December Nolan Properties paid $1.3 million cash for the triangular site at the corner of Excelsior & Abbott, just a few hundred feet from the future West Lake Street light-rail station.

Nolan Properties is seeking remediation grants from the Metropolitan Council and the Department of Employment and Economic Development to deal with the mercury contamination left over from when the site was used as a city dump in the early 1900s.

“This site goes down 80 feet of terrible, horrible soils,” developer John Nolan told the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council (WCNC) Tuesday evening. “The water table is at eight feet — that water is contaminated.”

A building adjacent to the Jiffy Lube site that holds a Yogurt Lab and a My Burger is also owned by Nolan Properties. Eventually — in five to 10 years — the developer hopes to knock down both buildings, thoroughly clean up the soil around the Jiffy Lube structure and erect a multi-story residential-retail building spanning both sites.

But for the short term, Nolan said he mostly wants to “address the cosmetics” — updating the facade, adding vegetation, installing bicycle parking and potentially putting in a patio to make the building attractive to either one or two tenants. Contaminated soil would be replaced to a depth of four feet underneath green space and two feet under the rest of the property.

Ward 13 City Council member Linea Palmisano said she thought the proposed project would be “viable for now.”

“The existing space is kind of blighty,” she said. “It’s not the best long-term use of the property.”

Despite the environmental concerns, WCNC board members were mostly pleased with the proposal to spruce up the building that’s been empty for almost two years.

“It’s an eyesore, it really is,” Board member Victoria Hoshal said.

But they had concerns about whether the narrow sidewalk fronting Excelsior Boulevard could be expanded.

“People in motorized wheelchairs are challenged going through there,” Board member Richard Logan said. “Yogurt Lab in the summer months is a real teen hangout. They will try to walk down the sidewalk three or four abreast, bumping into each other and stepping onto the pavement and the cars are right there, going 10 mph over the speed limit.”

Nolan said he was unsure whether he would be able to work with the city to increase the size of the sidewalk but noted that “it is in our selfish benefit to improve the pedestrian experience.”