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O’Fallon residents stand firm before proposed grocery store development

O'Fallon grocery storeA proposed community grocery store and attached gas station are drawing ire from O’Fallon residents living near the intersection of Knaust and Mexico roads.

The development came before the O’Fallon City Council on Nov. 12, when the council held a public hearing on a conditional use permit for the gas station, as well as a change of zoning for the site from C-0 Office District to C-2 General Business. The land in question is located along Mexico Road, between Knaust and Old Knaust roads.

Rich Musler, from Musler Engineering Company, was one of the presenters on behalf of the proposal. Musler said the rezoning petition was for 8.91 acres of the 11 acres currently vacant at that location.

The grocery store would be approximately 43,000 square feet in size, and the gas station/convenience store is proposed at 773 square feet. The gas station will have four pump houses, with eight spots for cars to fuel.

The site plan, while not up for debate at the Nov. 12 meeting, was given a positive recommendation by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Musler said the largest concern he has heard from residents revolves around traffic safety and traffic increase, and called upon a representative from CBB Transportation Engineers, a firm the developer had hired to perform a traffic study, to speak.

Shawn White, senior traffic engineer with CBB, said there were several recommended improvements regarding traffic proposed along with the development. These include an eastbound right-turn lane on Mexico Road at Knaust Road; a separate eastbound right-turn lane on Mexico Road [essentially an extended right-turn lane from the signal, according to the traffic study]; a separate eastbound right-turn lane on Mexico Road at the proposed main site drive opposite Belleau Wood Drive and a separate northbound left-turn lane on Knaust Road. CBB also recommends that the developer build a stoplight at the intersection of Abington Drive and Knaust Road.

In addition to the traffic improvements, the developer of the project is proposing a number of amenities to lessen the impact on nearby residents. A sight-proof, 8-foot-tall fence will be installed along the entire back side of the property, which Musler said the residents would not be held liable for if it were accidentally damaged. The facility also will  be oriented in a way so that the building will block trucks using the store’s loading dock from nearby homes. The developer has agreed to update the 4-foot sidewalk along Mexico and Knaust roads to 10 feet, according to White.

These amenities did not dissuade the crowd of residents, who filled every chair in the council chamber and much of the separate multi-purpose room.

Missouri Rep. John Wiemann, an O’Fallon resident, was the first to speak against the proposal.

“I’m very concerned about the safety of the students who attend (Fort Zumwalt South High),” Wiemann said. “While I generally support business development and economic progress in our community and state, I believe this particular development is not the right fit for this specific location.”

Many of the resident comments were focused around the safety of the neighborhood’s children. Some raised concerns that the development would make it unsafe for children and teens to walk to school, while others protested the danger increased traffic would present to new drivers.

“The traffic has already been a really big concern of mine, so that’s one thing that I want to speak to, because I’m a mother first, and protecting my baby ducklings is my job,” nearby resident Talisa OBrien said.

Resident Paul Witwer pointed to an online petition opposing the project with over 750 signatures.

“The people have spoken,” Witwer said to the councilmembers. “We have more people on our fan page than voted for any of you for any of your wards. If you build it, we will not come.”

The matter will return before the council on Dec. 10 for final reading.

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