Neighborhood says No to plans for gas station on Totinos site

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February 23, 2011
By: Gregory J. Scott
Gregory J. Scott
EAST HENNEPIN — Area residents and business owners have put the kibosh on a proposal to replace the old Totino’s Italian Kitchen site with a 12-pump gas station and car wash.

On Feb. 22, the board of the Nicollet Island/East Bank Neighborhood Association (NIEBNA) voted 9 to 3 not to recommend a zoning change that would allow the current Holiday gas station, at 107 6th St. SE, to move across the street.

Three-fourths of the Totino’s site — which is bounded by Central Avenue, 6th Street NE and 1st Avenue, and includes the parking lot across from Denny Kemp Salon — currently lies within a pedestrian overlay zone, which prohibits “car-oriented” businesses. Holiday had envisioned peeling back the overlay zone slightly, and representatives spent the last month meeting with both the East Bank and Marcy-Holmes neighborhoods to gauge support for the idea.

A packed crowd filled the back room of Ginger Hop to voice their opinions. Most were opposed to the plan.

Red Stag landlord John Eckley, who also owns City Salvage next door, was perhaps the most vocal critic. He called the proposal “a really disturbing thing to me,” and he feared the creation of “a suburban circus” across the street from his property.

Some neighbors worried about noise pollution from the proposed car wash. Others speculated that the expanded station would attract commuters and cause traffic congestion in the eclectic walking neighborhood.

Katie Greene and Gwen Engelbert, owners of Key North Boutique, submitted a letter of opposition to the board, which noted that any variance “would set a precedent for further objectionable development.”

NIEBNA Chair Victor Grambsch also took the long view. Today, Holiday pledges to consider the neighborhood with its gas station design, he said. But with a permanent change in the zoning, “Their successors can build anything they want”

Holiday’s Vice President of Real Estate David Hoeschen said after the meeting that the idea would most likely be shelved. A zoning change would require an uphill battle with the city, he said, and it doesn’t make sense to take on that headache without neighborhood support.

But the vote drew new attention to the decrepit Totino’s building, which has become a blighted site after sitting vacant for years.

As neighbors left the Feb. 22 meeting, one member of the Totino family, who had worked with Holiday on the proposal, stood up and asked the group, “What would you like to see go in there?”