(UPDATE Sept. 15, 2021: Residents have started a petition drive to urge city commissioners to deny Kwik Star’s conditional use permit and posted an event invitation to the Oct. 7, 2021, City Planning Commission meeting at 3 p.m.)
CEDAR RAPIDS – Residents and others concerned about a proposed Kwik Star next to a residential neighborhood told representatives they have nothing against the company, but “just not here.”
Nearly 50 people gathered Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, for a meeting with Kwik Star officials, after the City Planning Commission pulled consideration of a conditional use permit for a fueling station from its Aug. 26 meeting agenda. Commission members suggested the company hold a neighborhood meeting first. The item is expected to be back on the commission’s Oct. 7 agenda.
The company, which operates under the Kwik Trip umbrella, proposes a convenience store, with fuel pumps and car wash, at the site of the BetterLife insurance building, formerly known as Western Fraternal Life Association, 1900 First Ave. NE. The insurance company moved its headquarters from Cedar Rapids to Madison, Wisconsin, in recent months.
Access to the convenience store, which would operate 24 hours per day, seven days a week, would be via 19th Street NE.
“We’re different than your typical gas station,” said Dax Connely, real estate development manager for Kwik Trip, Inc., citing the fresh and prepared foods sold by Kwik Star. “We’re not really a gas station. We’re a convenience store.”
Residents noted a Hy-Vee grocery store is just blocks away, and multiple convenience stores already exist along First Avenue, the main thoroughfare through Cedar Rapids.
“It’s a residential neighborhood,” said Katie Hill, who owns a home nearby on Cottage Grove Avenue SE. “Twenty-four-seven is kind of disruptive.”
Others pointed out the ManorCare Health Services nursing home is next door at 1940 First Ave. NE, and Brucemore, Iowa’s only National Trust Historic Site, is almost directly across the street.
Connely admitted he had not spoken with representatives of either entity before Kwik Star developed its plan and had only recently found out about Brucemore, a 26-acre estate featuring an 1880s Queen Anne-style mansion that attracts tourists to Cedar Rapids and hosts numerous events.
“Our concern is the character of the neighborhood,” said Brucemore Executive Director David Janssen, adding he is not opposed to the company itself, but “I don’t think this is the right place to do it.”
Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter said the city has long abided by a tradition to not allow gas stations and food establishments past the 1600 block of First Avenue to 27th Street.
Allowing a convenience store opens “a dangerous Pandora’s box,” he said. “You’ll lose that integrity.”
Stoffer Hunter applauded the company for its previous location choices in Cedar Rapids, but added, “this one is not an ideal location.”
He and others suggested other vacant lots along First Avenue, where “you can get the benefits by choosing a different corner.”
Ben Kaplan, a co-founder of Corridor Urbanism, noted the 1958-constructed Western Fraternal Life building is an excellent example of mid-Century architecture and asked if the company could repurpose it.
“It’s not a building we can use,” Connely replied.
The building, as well as the 1960’s Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building behind it – later Odd Fellows hall – would both likely be demolished.
Other residents asked about stormwater runoff, particularly with the proposed car wash; the number of trees that would be removed in a city that already lost nearly 70 percent of its tree canopy in the 2020 derecho; falling property values; lighting concerns and an increase in crime and traffic accidents.
Tamara Marcus, a candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council, attended the meeting to hear from residents, but no council members attended.
Sara Huilman, who lives nearby on B Avenue NE, part of a national historic district, helped circulate a petition that calls for commission members to vote against the Kwik Star proposal.
“To us, it feels like adding insult to injury,” she said of the proposal in the neighborhood, which hasn’t fully recovered from last year’s hurricane-strength derecho windstorm. “We take refuge in the beauty of our homes and neighborhood. This would impede our opportunity to enjoy it fully.”