By Jim Hagerty
DOWNTOWN — A proposed downtown gas station continues to draw fire over whether it will disrupt development in the city’s growing urban core.
“Some people feel there should not be a gas station in that area because it brings suburbia to downtown,” Third Ward Alderman Chad Tuneberg said.
Others feel the Kelley Williamson station and full-service convenience store could be a fit if it complies with architectural trends being followed to preserve the city’s historic landscape.
Rockford architect and River District President Gary Anderson leads that charge, opining in the Rockford Register Star that a 28-pump gas station would leave no room on the corner of Jefferson and North Second streets corner for the mixed-use property called for in recent economic development plans.
“It takes up more 90 percent of the entire city block,” Anderson wrote Monday. “This is a suburban sprawl approach to inhabit as much land as possible. It doesn’t fit the urban context of good design or compactness, nor does it attempt to fit into the character of our revitalized downtown. It disregards the values and aspirations we have for our neighborhood.”
Alderman Tim Durkee, R-1, told City Council committee members the plan deserves a closer look about whether the facility would be right for the space.
“A lot of urbanization plans don’t even include gas stations,” Durkee said Monday night.
Tuneberg said the 2-acre development would give downtown a safer, more centralized option for fuel and convenient grocery items. It would also be the first Kelley Williamson location to offer prepared food.
Currently, the only downtown gas stations are at 1030 E. State St., and 425 S. Winnebago St. The Kelley Williamson store would be well lit and secure, the aldeman says.
“It will be their top-of-the-line station,” Tuneberg said. “They have their own private security they will provide if necessary.”
The development involves three owners, including Urban Equity Properties (UEP), which is ready to sell its lot. Bjorn Hulleberg owns adjacent property, and is also part of the sale to Kelley Williamson.
Hulleberg is requesting that trees be planted along the back of his two Market Street buildings and that the gas station’s dumpsters are sited away from his residential property.
A third owner holds the lot on the corner of Jefferson and N. Third St.
“This is an ideal location for those of us who live or work downtown,” UEP attorney Jeff Orduno told The Times last week, “and for people visiting the UW Health Sports Factory, City Market and other downtown venues.”
Tuneberg agrees, yet seeks more input from voices on both sides of the debate, including those who suggest that the store could fit into the downtown plan if Kelley Williamson comes back with a design that follows current trends, something other corporations like McDonald’s are known for when siting new restaurants.
“Kelley Williamson has changed some things the city has asked them to change,” Tuneberg said. “So, they aren’t just coming in with their original design. They have offered flexibility with variances and things asked of them. But, there are valid points on the other side of things.”
Then there is the economic impact of the project. Anderson said downtown would see a stronger impact from a development that includes a mixed-use space.
“This gas station will only generate $25,000 in real estate taxes; that’s only $15,000 more than the current vacant land is paying,” Anderson said. “Look at the real estate tax numbers for all our oversized gas stations: It’s in that range. If we are to find relief for homeowners, we need to encourage the type of development that will generate five to 10 times the tax revenue than that of a gas station. Downtown is a unique place that has deep historical roots, lots of character, and beautiful architecture.”
Kelley Williamson CEO John Griffin could not be reached for comment at press time. The proposal could be in front of the full City Council next week. R.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story referred to the Phillips 66 location at 425 S. Winnebago St. as a “hot spot for crime.” This attribution was meant to reflect the views of a third-party source, and in any case is not reflective of the nature of business at the 425 S. Winnebago St. location, which has a much lower level of reported crimes than other similar businesses throughout the area. We apologize for this mischaracterization of a downtown business.