Look for a split City Council vote on Tuesday when the council decides if the Kum & Go convenience store chain can build a new store at 1420 Mount Vernon Rd. NE, a site near McKinley Middle School that the Cedar Rapids school board opposes.
The school board has raised questions about alcohol, tobacco and snacks sold at convenience stores as well as traffic concerns.
On the other hand, some neighbors say a new store at the Mount Vernon Road SE location will help put a fresh face on a tired gateway to the Wellington Heights neighborhood.
The Tuesday vote is an interesting, unusual one that centers on the store’s site plan. The site already is zoned to allow convenience stores, and in fact, once was home to a grocery store.
On the site-plan matter, the City Planning Commission has final say, and the commission has voted 4-2 to approve the site plan.
However, opponents of a commission ruling can appeal to the City Council, which the school board and former educator Kathleen Dowd Ulrich have done.
The City Council vote will be on whether to approve the appeal, not on the whether to approve the site plan.
Council member Scott Olson will not be voting because he, a commercial Realtor, has represented the Kum & Go company.
In the event the eight remaining council members split 4-4, a 4-4 vote to deny the school board appeal means the appeal fails and the store plans can move ahead.
On the other hand, a 4-4 vote would have defeated the store’s plans if the council was voting on the site plan and not simply voting on the appeal of the earlier commission vote.
Mayor Ron Corbett has said he will side with the school board while council member Monica Vernon, the council’s mayor pro tem, has suggested she will side with the store. The site is zoned for such a commercial development, Vernon has noted.
The council meets at noon Tuesday at City Hall, 101 First St. SE.
Earlier this year, the council rejected a request by Kum & Go to rezone property at 2663 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, for a new convenience store after neighbors objected.
NEW: Here are comments scheduled to be presented at Tuesday's meeting by McKinley Middle School principal Steve Goodall.
Mayor Corbett and City Council Members:
Steve Goodall, principal at McKinley Middle School and I appreciate having this time to address you regarding concerns about the proposed Kum & Go at Mt. Vernon Road and 14th Street SE. We understand that you have combined another appeal on this issue with ours; we are here to represent the School District, McKinley Middle School and students there. We have the support for our appeal by leaders of the McKinley PTA, City PTA, Cedar Rapids Education Association representing teachers in our district, hundreds of neighbors, health officials at the local, state and national levels who have provided evidence against placing a convenience store next to a school, and superintendents locally and from other urban school districts in Iowa.
First, we’d like to acknowledge that you have the difficult position of weighing the interests of economic development or potential legal action with those of our students, but we think it’s clear our kids should be a priority in this case for the following reasons:
1. The increased traffic congestion at 14th St. converging with student pedestrian traffic before and after school hours in an area that already sees more than its share of fender benders. There are 22,000 vehicles per day that pass by this site, far more than in the 1960’s when this was a grocery store. There is also a new youth center going in across the street which will only increase foot traffic across the road. As one local company’s public service announcement says, “Two cars colliding is an accident; a car and a child colliding is a tragedy.” Unfortunately, the Planning Commission didn’t discuss the City’s traffic study.
2. Concern over the sale of alcohol and tobacco near a school, not that they will sell to our students, but the possibility that others will be purchasing and consuming those items around and on McKinley property.
3. Based on frequency of crime reports at or near convenience stores on First Avenue near downtown, we can surmise similar crimes will occur at this location, given similar neighborhood demographics. What will happen if there is a crime committed at the Kum & Go during school hours? What if there is a hold-up when students are transitioning to and or from school. We have already had two lockdowns since August for incidents committed in around the McKinley neighborhood. If something does happen, will Kum & Go be called to deal with the situation or will the school be called?
4. The school district is one of the first organizations, and largest, to sign-on to the Blue Zones healthy community project promoted by the City, which includes activities within our schools. What message does it send to put a convenience store within 60 feet of the McKinley school yard that sells hard liquor, other alcohol, tobacco products and junk food....not to mention the advertising of those products in this neighborhood of children, low-income and minority households? Most cities wouldn’t allow this within 500 – 1,000 feet of a school or church property line—our current City code is irresponsible in this regard.
5. There are other properties along Mt. Vernon Rd. to consider – East Post & Mt. Vernon Rd. has commercial property for sale—an option we’re told Kum & Go has considered; the old Post Office Annex on 8th Ave.—only a few blocks from the proposed site but further from the school; or maybe consider a swap of property with the transmission repair shop on 8th Ave. next to the railroad tracks; and then there is the empty property on Diagonal Drive close to I-380 with high volumes of traffic. The property being considered would be better used if incorporated into the new medical mall district as medical office space. There would be significantly lower traffic in/out of an office building parking lot vs. a convenience store—nearly 4 times less engineering experts have told us.
Given all of these considerations weighing strongly against allowing Kum & Go to build on the proposed site, if for some reason you should allow it, we would urge you to require Kum & Go to:
1. Pay for police presence (a School Resource Officer) at McKinley during school hours and whenever extra-curricular activities take place on the school grounds.
2. Require medians on Mt. Vernon Rd. preventing turns across west bound lanes onto 14th St. Also provide additional safety signage in the area warning vehicles of pedestrian traffic. Tom Peterson, the City Traffic Engineer, has told us this is essential if this project gets approval. We’d also urge widening the road there.
3. Forbid alcohol sales at this location. We asked Kolby Jones of Kum & Go at a recent meeting if they would be willing to consider this option and were told “no.” Also prohibit window or outdoor advertising of alcohol or tobacco products.
4. Require Kum & Go to pay a substantial portion of a perimeter security fence around the entire McKinley property; we have that information available with us.5. Require Kum & Go to support community improvement funds annually to the area neighborhood associations and McKinley Middle School.