The neighborhood debate over a proposed Kwik Trip convenience store and gas station on Cottage Grove Road took a toll, the area's alder said.
After more than three hours of testimony and discussion Monday night, Madison's Plan Commission voted to shelve the proposal, following in the footsteps of a unanimous rejection by the Urban Design Commission this month.
Opponents criticized the project at 4602 Cottage Grove Road for being a one-story structure in an area designated for neighborhood mixed use zoning of between two and four stories. Some wanted to see an anchor development replace the Sentry grocery store that closed on the site in 2014 to help fuel further redevelopment along the street.
But supporters said the store would add convenience for the neighborhood while removing the blighted, 21,000-square-foot former grocery.
In a blog post Tuesday, District 3 Ald. Amanda Hall wrote that discussions on the project started a movement toward a Cottage Grove Road corridor study and brought people together for neighborhood meetings.
"Quite unfortunately, the debate also created some tensions and negative feelings between neighbors and community members as healthy debate on the proposal devolved into participants questioning one another's intelligence and character," Hall wrote, pointing to social media posts. "Not only does this not add to the discussion, but it makes people tune out and be less likely to participate in the process, which is the opposite of what's best for the neighborhood."
The Plan Commission voted to place the proposal on file without prejudice, meaning Kwik Trip can later submit a new plan if it wants.
It's unclear whether Kwik Trip is interested in revising its proposal for the site to match the mixed-use purpose for which some area residents asked. A Kwik Trip project manager didn't return a message Tuesday seeking comment.
The proposed $3 million project would have demolished the grocery store to make way for a 7,200-square-foot convenience store and eight gas pumps under a canopy.
It got a chilly reception from the Urban Design Commission, which voted 8-0 on April 6 to recommend denying the conditional use permits for the site. In passing the motion, that body said the one-story nature of the development, the architecture and having large sections of pavement didn't meet neighborhood uses.
The city's comprehensive plan recommends neighborhood mixed use projects for the site and discusses transforming it to a higher-density, less-auto-oriented use, city planner Tim Parks told the Plan Commission on Monday.
Some in attendance on Monday objected to putting another gas station in an area that already features a healthy mix of them.
"The Kwik Trip, to me, just lacks imagination," area resident Steve Wendorff said. "When I first heard the proposal, I thought, well, good, we're going to get rid of an eyesore and maybe we'll get some development. But then I realized there's a Citgo station right across the street, there's another gas station a block down and a third gas station three blocks down. I really don't want to have gas station corner alley here again."
The availability of fresh food in the area came into question when Hall referenced soliciting opinions from low-income residents.
She told the Plan Commission one's vision for the "highest, best use" of a property may not be the same for another.
"All the folks with whom I spoke who have lesser access and less convenient access spoke in favor of having a Kwik Trip," Hall said. "These are folks that technically could walk to Walgreens or walk to Citgo. These are folks who, through our bus system, could bus it to Woodman's or to Metro Market. They thought that their neighborhood would be dramatically improved by having this Kwik Trip here. ...
"In putting this project on hold, I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that in waiting for something better, in waiting for something different, that's a lot of meals that we're waiting on. It's a lot of meals that our neighbors have a little bit less option on."
Former District 3 Ald. Lauren Cnare said she and other area residents have come around to the appeal of mixed-use developments, and she said that's what the former Sentry property calls for.
"Today we have what some call a problem," she said. "It's an empty, ugly building. And that's too bad that some people chose to let that go and come here tonight and want me and my neighbors to make up for their dereliction of duty. You've heard demolition by neglect? This is not only demolition by neglect, it is redevelopment by neglect because we are being told nothing else will happen."
She said that it took years for good development to come along in Royster Corners and Grandview Commons to the west and east along Cottage Grove Road, respectively, and that a good proposal for the former Sentry site also will take time.