Diesel fuel island clears planning panel

WINTHROP – By a 3-1 vote Tuesday with councilor Don Adema abstaining, the Winthrop Planning Commission approved a rezoning and Conditional Use Permit (CUP) request by United Farmers Cooperative (UFC) to build a new diesel fuel island and pump system just east of the existing United Xpress on east Highway 19.

Commission member Mark Santelman cast the dissenting vote. The project would include the demolition of two homes just east of United Xpress. He called the request “spot zoning that would not hold up in court.”

The Planning Commission decision comes after two public meetings earlier this month that included three hours of public testimony that weighed heavily against the project.

According to the City of Winthrop’s draft findings, the planning commission found that procedural requirements addressing UFC’s request were met, enabling a zoning change from R-1 (residential) to C-1 (commercial).

The recommendation goes before the Winthrop City Council at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 4, for a final decision.

Conditions of the CUP stipulate UFC must build a fence to be approved by the Planning Commission, on the south side of the property; landscaping must be done; no parking would be allowed north of the property; no more than four fuel pumps could be added; LED lighting must be installed and it must be designed to dim when not in use; and no use of full power between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.. In addition, a year-long traffic study must be paid for by UFC. The permit could be rescinded within one year if not all conditions are met.

“I’m adamantly opposed to this,” Santelman said before the commission voted approval. “How much more citizen input do you need? … I’m begging UFC to withdraw this. …There’s perception the books have been cooked. … You may not agree with me, but that’s how I view this.”

A July 24 letter signed by UFC GM/CEO Jeff Nielsen, Winthrop Area Board member Kevin Lauwagie and Board Chairman Jeff Franta to Winthrop residents read that “rezoning the property from residential to business commercial is consistent with the City’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan that is available for public viewing at City Hall.

“Hennepin Street (just east of the UFC Xpress store) is designated for truck traffic, most of which flows to the milk plant. UFC’s proposal is to develop the property as a diesel fueling island to serve existing Highway 19 truck traffic,” the letter read.

It explained that overnight parking will not be permitted at the site except in case of snow or breakdown emergencies. Most customers will be local grain and route trucks generally operated during normal business hours.

“This project is simply the addition of a diesel island to an existing C-store. It is not a ‘truck stop,’ the letter stated.

Winthrop resident Shelley Zacate who lives near the United Xpress store, distributed a flyer prior to Tuesday’s meeting that read that the project belongs in an industrial zone, not a residential neighborhood.

In an additional handout, Zacate listed her concerns with the UFC request as:

Child safety.

Headlight glare from semi trucks turning in and out of the site.

Noise including air brakes, diesel engines, backup beepers, loud stereos and customers shouting across fuel bays.

Fumes during refueling and from a tanker when it unloads at the site.

Decreased home values.

Other health risks including cancer risks and odorless fumes with harmful chemicals.

Reduced privacy.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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