A plan that paves the way for QuikTrip's move to the intersection of Manchester Road and Big Bend Boulevard gained preliminary approval amid an outcry of opposition from Maplewood Richmond Heights parents on Monday evening.
In a 3-2 vote, the Maplewood Planning and Zoning Commission offered its approval of rezoning the northwest corner of the intersection to allow QuikTrip's opening. A sixth member abstained. The move still requires final approval from city council.
If approved, QuikTrip would move from its location at the intersection of Big Bend and Flora Avenue to the current Maplewood Scooter Company* located beside the high school building.
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Nine residents shared their opposition to the move during the meeting's public comment period. They cited fears of more traffic congestion at an already-busy intersection and increased safety hazards for students walking to school.
“QuikTrip is selling itself as a destination. We’re fooling ourselves if we think it won’t increase traffic—especially at rush hour,” said Jason Dodson, a father of two elementary school students and one preschooler.
QuikTrip representatives contend that the intersection wouldn't gain much additional traffic, saying most motorists don't drive out of their way to reach a gas station. QuikTrip officials simply hope to draw from the existing traffic, they said.
The existing plan could actually improve safety, said Alan Renner, real estate manager for QuikTrip. That's because QuikTrip would pay for the addition of a right-turn lane on southbound Big Bend Boulevard onto Manchester Road.
Visibility also would improve at the intersection because QuikTrip's building would be further away from the roads than the current scooter store building.
But school officials are more concerned about the potential affect on Martini Drive, which runs between the high school and scooter store property. Semitrucks would use Martini Drive for delivery dropoffs, and motorists would be able to exit on that road.
Right now, students routinely walk along that road, both during and after school hours.
"That's an area where our students are always going to be," said Nelson Mitten, who serves on the MRH Board of Education.
The school board first released an announcement opposing the move in late March.
Why does QuikTrip want to move?
If approved, QuikTrip would open a third-generation store at Big Bend and Manchester. The new stores include more food and drink options, including coffees, teas and frozen drinks, Renner said.
They also require more space. QuikTrip would move from a 3,200 square feet at the current location to 5,600 in the new one. QuikTrip would expand from 10 employees to 20 in the move.
That would allow QuikTrip to attract more customers driving through the intersection.
QuikTrip would pay for the demolition and landscaping of its old location if the company couldn't sell the space within a year, Renner said. It's part of an agreement the company signed with the city.
He doesn't anticipate the property remaining on the market that long, however, as Renner has already received three letters of intent from private developers, he said.
The commission was divided on how to proceed
Commission members Jackie Robb and Pickett Lema sided with the MRH parents, sharing their concerns about children safety at the property.
“I have nothing against QuikTrip. If it wasn’t for QuikTrip, my family wouldn’t have milk," said Robb, whose 9-year-old attends MRH schools. "I don’t think that site works. I’m concerned about Martini."
Commission members Dan Noonan, Mike Hummert and Kevin Sullivan voted to recommend QuikTrip's rezoning request.
Linda Siemers abstained. Tom Bakersmith was absent.
What's next for QuikTrip?
Following the meeting, Renner said he hoped to work with the school district to address their concerns.
That's something that school board president Maria Langston said she is open to, but added that QuikTrip has failed to address the school board's safety concerns so far.
"Ideas have not been shared with the district," Langston said. "But we remain open to continuing to talk with him."
Maplewood City Council is expected to first discuss the plan during a meeting on Aug. 14.
Read more on Patch about the proposed QuikTrip move:
- QuikTrip Move Progresses Behind the Scenes (June 11)
- MRH School Board Protests QuikTrip Move (May 29)
- Maplewood Releases QuikTrip Status Statement (May 25)
- QuikTrip Lease is Signed for Move to Manchester and Big Bend (May 24)
- QuikTrip Move Opponents to Hand In Petitions at Planning and Zoning on Monday (May 4)
- Petitions For, Against QuikTrip Move Gain Signatures (April 27)
- MRH Opposition to QuikTrip Move Sparks Storm of Comments (March 30)
- QuikTrip Lease Signed for Move to Manchester and Big Bend (March 24)
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly named the scooter store. We are sorry for the mistake.