The City of St. Michael’s vision for the downtown zone — a professional or small retail area that looks nice — halted a potential buyer of the abandoned Simonson Lumber site from building a new gas station there.
The buyer was told by the city's planning commission that gas stations, car washes, convenience stores and fast food restaurants do not fit the vision of the downtown area. That part of the city is not zoned for those types of businesses, and the city would have to rezone the area if it chose to permit a gas station.
The Simonson Lumber building was lost to a January fire, and the planning commission continues to talk with potential buyers.
"There are plenty of other places to have gas stations — that wasn’t really the vision of the downtown area," City of St. Michael Community Development Director Marc Weigle reported to the council at last week's council meeting. "I did communicate that to the potential buyer — that the downtown plan guides it to more professional offices and some retail."
He added that the city envisions in the downtown area a mix of offices, for professional services like real estate, dentists, insurance and general retail.
"We consider things like gas stations and fast food as places that generate significant amounts of traffic and typically take up a lot of space for the amount of building they have," he said. "If we’re looking at developing downtown like a more traditional downtown, a gas station doesn't really fit that type of vision. They are more quick-serve type places that fit better with commercial areas."
He told the council that a new gas station may look nice for five years, "but in 10 years, we will say maybe we shouldn’t have done that. That’s not the look we're looking for."
He added that it was the consensus of the planning commission as a whole that a gas station at that site would not be a good fit.
City council member Kevin Kasel said that the city’s turning down the offer should solely be because it’s not zoned for a gas station — and not because the city already has a number of gas stations, or that it doesn't want to change the vision to accommodate a use that the city already has in other parts of the town.
“The challenge I'm going to have is, I don't want the argument used when we say, 'Oh, we don't need another bank, or another gas station,” Kasel said. "If we're not going to break the line here, we better not break the line somewhere else."
City council member Joe Marx said a gas station at the proposed location could be a good thing for local businesses.
"It might bring people off the road for a purpose, and they might shop somewhere else in town," he said.
Kasel said the city needs to see how the current plan and vision for the city works out.
"We need to be patient," Kasel said. "We need to let the plan play out the way it is."