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Neighbor-friendly revamp of Hillside gas station planned

A spanking new store. A pedestrian walkway. Green spaces. All are in the preliminary plans for a new SuperAmerica at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street in Duluth that could change the face of a busy and often troublesome intersection. Initial pl...

SuperAmerica station
Plans are under way to replace the SuperAmerica at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street with one twice as big and set farther back to allow for green space and better pedestrian access and traffic flow. Observers say it will improve an often troublesome intersection. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

A spanking new store. A pedestrian walkway. Green spaces.

All are in the preliminary plans for a new SuperAmerica at Sixth Avenue East and Fourth Street in Duluth that could change the face of a busy and often troublesome intersection.

Initial plans call for razing the current store and replacing it with a new store twice as big, set back at an angle facing the intersection. It would have fewer gas dispensers and fewer driveway entrances to reduce traffic congestion and increase public safety.

Although Jack Curtis, whose family's limited partnership owns the property, stresses that the project's planning is just beginning, it's got some community members excited.

"We're very happy," said Sharon Murphy, general manager of the Whole Foods Co-op next door. "It will give a whole different look to that intersection. It will dress up that corner, which is only going to be good for the neighborhood."

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A new SuperAmerica would complement the remodeled Whole Foods Co-op building and the co-op's plans to redo its own parking lot next year and add trees.

But Murphy is excited for more than that. She also is a member of the Safe and Walkable Hillside committee, whose goal is to create more green space and more pedestrian-friendly spaces in the hillside. The SuperAmerica project would help accomplish that.

"We're just wondering when it's going to happen," said Murphy, who said the station has been a good neighbor.

On Friday, Curtis couldn't say.

"I can't say when it will happen," he said. "I don't have all the details. We're planning right now."

The project became possible when Curtis sought -- and received -- a variance from the city allowing the new store to be built right up to the rear alley, bypassing the 25-foot rear yard setback rule. The co-op building next door, constructed before the 1958 setback requirement, also is built right up to the alley.

That means delivery trucks would no longer block access in front of the SuperAmerica store. Instead, deliveries could be made to an alley entrance as they do for co-op deliveries. The zero setback would allow for a larger convenience store, which is the trend today.

The new store's siting on the 100-by-140-foot sloping lot would leave the flat areas for the fuel pumps as needed. The store's placement would keep all activity in front of the store, in public view, to deter crime.

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Although city planners recommended the variance request be denied, the Duluth Planning Commission, made up of citizens, unanimously approved it in July.

"This is a great plan," said Drew Digby, the commission's president. "We've talked about this intersection a lot. This helps a lot."

Buildings wear out and the current building, built in 1961, is ready for replacement, Curtis says.

Reports accompanying the variance request say the new store would be 3,140 square feet, compared to the current 1,450-square-foot building. Fifteen percent of the lot's totally impervious surface would be removed and planted with landscaped greenery. New pedestrian walkways and vehicle parking areas would be created.

With the variance in hand, Curtis said, "Now I have to figure out how I can make it work."

The variance will lapse if the project isn't begun within a year, though a one-year extension could be requested.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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