When Dennis Bennett and his wife, Vicki, moved from suburban Milwaukee to his home in Altoona’s Hillcrest Greens development last year, he did so in part to escape his crowded urban setting.
But if a proposed Casey’s General Store is built at the entrance of the development on Altoona’s south side, Bennett’s surroundings and those of his neighbors would be adversely impacted, he and others who live there said.
“We wanted to get out of that busy, overbuilt environment, to get closer to nature,” Bennett said Wednesday. “Instead, this gas station would get me right back to that life. ... If a gas station goes here, it is going to be a nightmare.”
The Altoona City Council is scheduled to discuss a plan to build a convenience store, gas station and car wash owned by Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Store at its meeting Thursday. The site’s owner, local developer Jim Rooney, proposed building the project.
The council has three options regarding the project, according to city records. It can approve the project as proposed, OK it with conditions the developer must meet to proceed, or send it back to the commission for further negotiations.
The city Plan Commission has twice recommended against the project, once in July and again last month, when its members voted 7-0 against the proposal. The commission is advisory to the City Council, meaning the council can decide differently from the commission.
Other neighbors, 11 of whom contacted the Leader-Telegram, agreed with Bennett. They said a gas station near houses and The Classic at Hillcrest Greens, a housing complex for elderly residents that is part of the development, is at odds with the attractive, natural setting that is home to a creek and ample green space they were promised when building and buying homes at the site of the former Hillcrest golf club.
Deb Swan has lived in Hillcrest Greens since October 2015. She moved there from Eau Claire in part because of “Mr. Rooney’s promises to keep the land as natural as possible,” she said.
“I feel like Mr. Rooney has not lived up the promises he originally told us,” Swan said. “People have invested a significant portion of their life savings to build here ... If I had known that this (gas station) was coming or was even a possibility, I would never have even considered building here.”
Other Hillcrest Greens residents listed a host of concerns related to the Casey’s General Store project, from environmental worries related to gas stations, to noise and light pollution, to traffic and pedestrian safety issues.
Jerry Southworth, who lives in the development, said the neighborhood is home to a growing number of people, including children who play and ride their bikes. Significant projected traffic growth with the addition of the Casey’s General Store poses dangers to pedestrians and motorists alike, he said.
“It just doesn’t fit here,” Southworth said.
City Administrator Mike Golat acknowledged controversy about the convenience store. While many living in Hillcrest Greens oppose the project, not all neighborhood residents are against the convenience store, he said. The site where the store would be built is designated as commercial zoning.
While some in the neighborhood said the gas station is a bad fit for its surroundings, that concept is subjective, Golat said.
“The city’s role is to apply the ordinance objectively and legally,” he said. “Obviously there are differences of opinions as to what that is.”
Those opposed to the convenience store questioned how the Weld Riley law firm of Eau Claire could represent both Rooney and the city of Altoona. The city recently hired Wiley Law in Chippewa Falls to advise it in the matter. Some objected to Rooney’s threatening a lawsuit against the city if the project is not approved. Rooney was not available for comment.
Southworth and others against the convenience store said they plan to take the city to court if the City Council approves the project.
“It is not proper to proceed with this,” he said. “We plan to continue to protect our homes.”
» Altoona City Council: Meets at 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, 1303 Lynn Ave.