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Bellevue Kroger Fuel Center Plans Rejected Again

For the third time, Kroger went before the City of Bellevue's board of adjustments and for the third time the company's plan to put a fuel center on Donnermeyer Drive was rejected.

Kroger was criticized by members of the board and a city councilman for not altering the plans enough following the rejection last November to better fit the city's form-based code, which aims to produce more pedestrian-friendly developments, particularly along Donnermeyer which is dotted by more suburban-style development.

"I'm kind of wondering why we're here hearing this same thing again," said City Councilman Ryan Salzman, who served on the board of adjustments last year before being elected to council. "Very little improvement has been made." Salzman countered the purported confusion experienced by Kroger's team in relation to specs demanded by the code in relation to glazing on new buildings and storefront frontage. "A lot of games are being played about numbers. This seems like fishing more than anything else."

"Do I think it meets the code, a code that our community came together and created for our future? No," said assistant city administrator Jody Robinson. "And if we don't have that future of the possibility for redevelopment in this district, we're in trouble."

Kroger spent roughly $5 million renovating its Bellevue location and now eyes the neighboring car wash as a spot to place a fuel center. Kroger representatives have argued that offering gas has become an integral part of the grocery giant's business model. Bellevue adopted its form-based code in order to encourage more urban-style developments that cater to pedestrians. Part of the board of adjustment's argument in rejecting Kroger's plan is that the kiosk that would service the fuel center is not pedestrian friendly, is not large enough, and simply does not fit the city's vision for the redevelopment of that area. 

"Kroger is not belittling or undermining or not reaching into pockets to build something that conforms," said Kroger's Monte Chesko. "We built the Newport store, a highly controversial project. We felt this store needed to stay. Fuel centers are part and parcel of what we do. It's important for us. The form-based zoning code is important." Chesko argued that the company is a victim of the parcel's dimensions, stating that if the property line were smaller, the plan would conform to the code and they would not be before the board again seeking a number of variances for conditional use.

"I would concede with (Bellevue zoning administrator Scott) Enns that there is math gymnastics," said Jonathan Walker, a Kroger representative. "At the heart of this project, Kroger views this as part of the overall plan for the Bellevue store. A $5 million remodel, that project was done in response to customer demand for service. We added more product selection, added a pharmacy, improved the interior and exterior, and these actions kept the Bellevue store viable. Similarly the fuel center is proposed in response to customer demand."

It does not, however, meet the city's code, argued board member Jeff Sharp. "I was really hoping -- and I really want to see a Kroger fuel center -- but I was really hoping you guys would come back with more changes than you did," Sharp said.

"I don't think the intent is anywhere near what the code is telling us the intent should be here," said board member Sean Fisher. "This is going to be the standard Kroger kiosk no matter the limitations of the lot. I believe it is the duty of this board to make sure we are paying attention to what the code says and not to make sure that a specific business can into that lot."

Kroger's argument that a recently approved Arby's remodel was similar to its own plans was shot down, too. Arby's, the board argued, returned after its initial rejection with plans to conform to the code, needing only variances for signage which were granted.

Enns recommended denial of the plans. Fisher motioned to deny the plans and was seconded by Sharp. The vote to deny Kroger was 2-1 with board chairman Ralph Meyer voting against the denial.

Correction: A previous version of this story referred to the planning and zoning board. It was the board of adjustments that considered Kroger's plan. RCN regrets the error.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Car Wash near Kroger that would be removed to make way for fuel center (RCN)