The real estate adage that "retail follows rooftops" is about to become a reality for a neighborhood in Savage — and the residents don't appear too happy about it.
The Savage City Council last week approved plans for a Goodwill store in the city's Cherrywood neighborhood, just south of the intersection of Alabama Avenue and County Road 42. The only no vote came from Gene Abbott, who said he wanted more time for the city, developer and neighbors to work out their differences.
The site is vacant now and has been a sort of buffer between the residential area developed in the 1990s and the O'Connell Square retail center built in 2002. The 20,600-square-foot Goodwill store will occupy part of the site, with the future use of the rest of the parcel still to be determined.
"This is a commercial lot. It always has been," Planning Commissioner Bob Coughlen told about 50 residents who had shown up at a Nov. 7 commission meeting to voice opposition to the project. "If you ever thought nothing would ever go there, that's unfortunate."
City Administrator Barry Stock delivered a similar message to the neighbors shortly before the council voted to approve the plans.
"We're in a difficult phase in our growth pattern, because much of the land that we have left is infill development, meaning all the other property around it has been developed. A lot of our infill sites are commercial," Stock said, adding that many of those parcels are along heavily traveled County Road 42.
The neighbors' opposition focused mostly on the prospect of heavier traffic on Alabama, a winding residential street that feeds directly into the Goodwill site. Residents said their street already gets used as a cut-through by drivers seeking to avoid surrounding roads, including 42.
They said even more cut-through traffic could result not just from vehicles going to and leaving Goodwill, but from a local road that will be built to connect the Goodwill to O'Connell Square.
"I'm as bad as the rest. I've done it, too," said Mayor Janet Williams of taking shortcuts through the residential area. She suggested that sidewalks be added along Alabama, but noted that most of that expense would fall on homeowners through assessments.
Ultimately, the council took other steps to deal with traffic and safety issues. One is a raised barrier that will divert vehicles leaving or passing through the Goodwill site to make a right turn, taking them a short distance north to 42 instead of south through the neighborhood along Alabama.
City Attorney Ric Rosow said other traffic safety measures could be added in the future if the city determines there is a need.
Residents at both the commission and council meetings said they weren't objecting to the project because it's to be a Goodwill store. Jon Halleen told the council the development is too large for the site, and that even if it were a Trader Joe's, "we'd be against it as well."
Another resident said city planners didn't design Alabama as a feeder road — further proof that the area wasn't meant to be next door to a high-volume retailer.
But several comments on a petition submitted to the city indicated that concerns over safety — especially for neighborhood children and students at the nearby Harriet Bishop Elementary School — go beyond traffic volumes.
"The clientele using the Goodwill doesn't seem like a good fit with a school within one-quarter of a mile," said one signer. Some said there already are too many thrift stores in the area.
Others who signed the petition raised concerns about the backgrounds of store employees, with more than one signer claiming they could be people with criminal backgrounds.
Rob Fendler, whose Fendler Patterson Construction will build the new store, told council members and residents that Goodwill/Easter Seals does not hire people with criminal histories to work in its stores. The nonprofit's stores sell donated clothing, shoes, household goods and furniture to raise funds to provide employment services for people with disabilities and other barriers, including criminal backgrounds. But the services are provided to those individuals at Goodwill's mission centers in other locations, not its stores.
"I don't understand the outcry," said Fendler after the council meeting. He said his firm has built more than 20 stores around the state for Goodwill and has never encountered this degree of resistance.