Artist’s rendering of an A&W restaurant that was proposed in 1998 for the corner of Woodland Avenue and St. Marie Street.
DRIVE-IN OVER CREEK RAISES IRE OF NEIGHBORS (Duluth News Tribune, Feb. 11, 1998)
Developers say it’s just an old-fashioned root beer stand, a slice of Americana. But a pocket of neighbors near a Woodland Avenue intersection are hopping mad about how close it’ll be to their homes and about the potential damage it could do to a designated trout stream.
Inter-City Oil officials have proposed converting their closed gas station at Woodland and St. Marie Street into an A&W restaurant, complete with car hops and window trays.
The restaurant would include a bridge and outdoor dining on a deck spanning Tischer Creek. On the other side of the creek, on property now zoned for single-family homes, plans call for a 26-stall canopied parking lot.
Neighbors are concerned about noise, lights glaring into their homes, rowdy customers, increased traffic on Woodland, and the future of the creek.
"How would you like to have a drive-in root beer stand right next to your property, with all those lights on till all hours and then those speakers, the ones they use to order their food, blaring all the time. How would you like that?" asked Ken Backstrom, who lives just across the creek.
He and another neighbor gathered more than 35 signatures opposing the project.
ICO officials said Tuesday they’re willing to do anything necessary to protect the creek and to keep the neighbors happy. A family restaurant would be a good fit in the neighborhood, said the ICO’s Judy Weber, who counts visits to A&W among her favorite childhood memories.
"The A&W root beer stand is kind of an American tradition," she said. "I’d like to revive that."
Construction of the new restaurant would include screens to catch litter blown from the bridge. Shrubs, trees and other landscaping would provide a buffer for nearby homes while protecting the creek from runoff and other pollution, Weber said.
"We want to captivate on Tischer Creek and make it a focal point," she said. "We want people to be able to come here and see the creek and enjoy it all summer long."
The A&W is a long way from becoming reality.
The Duluth Planning Commission needs to approve variances that would allow ICO to build the parking area larger and closer to the creek than is allowed under city codes. The variances also would allow the use of 300 cubic yards of fill to create a terraced retaining wall on the creek’s north bank.
Planning Commission members delayed action on the project Tuesday. They’ll wait to see what happens Feb. 24, when the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals decides whether to rezone the property on the north side of Tischer Creek to allow the canopy and parking lot.
This isn’t the first time neighbors and others have rallied to protect Tischer Creek.
In the mid-1980s, plans were made to build a senior citizen apartment complex and townhomes near Hartley Nature Center. Neighbors and others protested. The apartments weren’t built.
Also last summer, developers proposed building townhomes on a portion of the former Congdon estate along London Road. Again, neighbors protested. Developers agreed to build farther away.
The A&W plan died the next month, when the Duluth Board of Zoning Appeals refused to allow the canopied parking lot to be built. The former gas station now houses Domino’s Pizza.