by CHRIS ROGERS
Following pushback, Winona State University (WSU) is scrapping its plan for a land swap with Kwik Trip at Huff and Sarnia streets in Winona. Many neighbors welcomed the news.
The university had planned to sell its parking lot at that corner to Kwik Trip to build a bigger gas station, and Kwik Trip had planned to sell WSU its current gas station property — part of an entire block WSU hopes to someday acquire for the construction of a new field house. Some Winonans greeted the proposal as a win-win for the university and customers. However, the deal would have brought a bustling gas station closer into the quiet, residential neighborhood north of Lake Winona. It would have required major zoning changes from city hall, including a supermajority vote of the City Council to change the city’s comprehensive plan.
WSU and Kwik Trip officials never brought a formal application to city hall, but the two organizations met with neighbors to discuss the project. After homeowners expressed concerns — roughly 160 of them signed a forthcoming letter to the editor — WSU dropped its plan. “While we are grateful to Kwik Trip for bringing this idea forward, Winona State University has decided not to pursue this particular proposal,” university officials wrote in a statement.
Kwik Trip representatives weren’t immediately available for comment.
Neighbor Will Gibson, who recently ran for City Council, called the decision sensible. “[The gas station proposal] was a 24-hour operation. It was more than doubling its pumps. It was just a massive development. It doesn’t belong or fit with the neighborhood,” he stated. Nodding to the light, neighborhood business district zoning city officials had been eyeing for the rezone — as opposed to a heavier business zoning — Gibson added, “Obviously, 9,000 square feet and 24 hours a day is not serving the neighborhood. It’s serving a much larger population.” He added, “Kwik Trip certainly is a nice amenity to have. They run a great store … Some people were looking forward to having more of those amenities available, but for a lot of reasons, it just wasn’t a fit.”
“Our house would have been just across the street from 20 fuel pumps, so yeah, we’re glad that they withdrew the proposal,” neighboring homeowner Jerry Windley-Daoust stated. “Like a lot of the older homes on our block, we have bedrooms right on the street, so we were anticipating a lot of noise and light in our bedroom and our kids’ bedroom all night long.”
The head of WSU’s astronomical observatory, professor Jennifer Anderson argued, “We need to preserve our dark skies as we would our natural areas. Building a large gas station near to the natural area of our lakes would only serve to wash out even more stars in our night sky, damaging our natural beauty.”
Windley-Daoust added, “One good thing to come out of this was how the whole neighborhood pulled together.” He credited a few of his neighbors with much of the work. “We had one big outdoor meeting and then a few Zoom meetings and lots of emails and leafleting. We had something like 160 people sign the letter we were planning to put out against the proposal, and about a dozen people put in hundreds of hours organizing. It just goes to show what people can accomplish when we work together.”