New Kum and Go Could be Built Near McKinley Middle School
By Rick Smith, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Cedar Rapids school board opposes the idea, but the City Planning Commission, on a 4-2 vote, has given the go ahead for the Kum & Go convenience store chain to build a new store on busy Mount Vernon Road SE near McKinley Middle School.
The commission’s own discussion and the comments it heard from the public centered on whether a new convenience store would exacerbate existing traffic congestion at the site and in a way that would increase the odds that youngsters headed to the store would be struck by motorists. At the same time, some thought the new store would provide a fresh face to a commercial corner in need of one on the border of the Wellington Heights and Oak Hill neighborhoods.
Those who disagree with the commission’s vote have 10 days to appeal it to the City Council otherwise the commission decision on the site plan is final, Vern Zakostelecky, a planner in the city’s Community Development Department, said after Thursday’s vote.
Mary Meisterling, vice president of the Cedar Rapids school board, told the commission members that the school board urged the commission to reject the Kum & Go store proposal at the former Crescent Electric Supply Co. site, 1420 Mount Vernon Rd. SE, next to McKinley Middle School. Meisterling said the store’s fare of alcohol, tobacco and snack foods was not appropriate in such proximity to the more than 600 middle-school students.
Steve Goodall, principal at McKinley, noted that the school expected students to use a pedestrian bridge across Mount Vernon Road SE near the school, but he said he worried that increasingly students would cut through traffic to go to and from a convenience store rather than taking the bridge over traffic.
Some in the neighborhood spoke against the store’s plans and some spoke in favor of them.
Kathy Madigan, 847 16th St. SE, opposed the plan out of concern for traffic and child safety and said she had submitted a petition signed by some 200 others who also opposed it. James Clark, 815 15th St. SE, also complained about traffic, saying 15th Street SE is already "like a racetrack." Karen Hartlep. 1620 Eighth Ave. SE, said there were better ways to erase the "stigma" of decline on the corner without putting in a store that sold alcohol, tobacco and snack foods.
On the other hand, Bob Bembenek, 344 16th St. SE, said an "aesthetically pleasing" new commercial building on a corner in the Wellington Heights neighborhood was needed and would "enhance" the corner’s "beauty." Jason Blocker, 846 15th St. SE, said he supported the store and Kum & Go, and he said the store chain had invested million on new stores in the city and shouldn’t be denied at this site because of worries "that some kids will buy regular soda instead of diet."
Commission members Carletta Knox-Seymour and Mike Tertinger voted against the Kum & Go plan while Scott Overland, the commission chairman, and members Jim Halverson, Gloria Frost and Laura Seaton voted for the company’s store plan.
Knox-Seymour recalled growing up when the corner had a grocery store on it and McKinley students went into it to buy snacks "not in the pyramid group." Even so, she said she wasn’t sure if the store would "offer a whole lot" to the neighborhood.
Tertinger expressed concern about the history of a one-time gas station that will be demolished along with the former Crescent Electric Supply Co. building and a few others on the site. He said he didn’t like the idea of a big convenience store being "squeezed" into the corner of a neighborhood, a similar argument that prompted the City Council in January to turn down a similar proposal from Kum & Go for a store on the site of the former Vernon Inn, at 2663 Mount Vernon Rd. SE.
Frost told the Kum & Go representatives that the city of Cedar Rapids wanted the stores in the community and she asked if the company promised to help youngsters coming into the store make "good decisions," was willing to work with school officials and would help to keep the property clean and neat.
Seaton said she supported the store plan because the arrival of the store wouldn’t change existing issues with traffic and because other businesses that might locate on the site, such as fast-food restaurants, would come with similar concerns for youngsters.
Kolby Jones of Kum & Go said the company would invest some $4 million in the project in a store that will be similar to the company’s new store at First Avenue and 32nd Street NE. He said the company is buying up an entire block so it can add more landscaping to the property to make it more attractive.
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