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story.lead_photo.caption Springdale city hall.

SPRINGDALE -- The Planning Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved variances to building codes and then the overall development plan for a new Casey's General Store at East Robinson Avenue and Oriole Street.

The company requested the changes to make the store safer for employees and customers, said Doug Melton of Morrison-Shipley Engineers. The council accepted alternatives to the store entrances, parking lot orientation, pedestrian flow and landscaping.

The company prefers to keep all parking and customer entrances on the front side of the store, giving employees a complete view of the parking lot and gasoline pumps, Melton said.

"We like parking in the front for store and neighborhood security, so the staff can see what's going on," he said. "The stores are never heavily staffed. And they need to be aware of security concerns with the comings and goings."

The city requires landscaping around the foundations of buildings. Melton said the nature of a convenience store calls for concrete sidewalks -- which staff easily can clean -- around the building to discourage insects and vermin from hiding and entering the store unnoticed.

Melton said Casey's officials agreed to move the plants for foundation landscaping to other sites on the lot. "If we didn't, we will," he said.

Store owners want to keep the store entrance facing Robinson, Melton pointed out, but the configuration of the lot and the grading of the lot make that orientation difficult.

"The lot will retain 60% green space because of the way it is configured," he said.

That same orientation and grading allows the store to provide a connection from its south side to Dean's Trail and ultimately the Razorback Greenway, said Planning Commission member Ben Peters.

The city likes projects to lead the flow of pedestrians out to sidewalks along the streets the projects front.

But for Casey's, it's another safety issue. "We don't want pedestrians to have to cross the paths of vehicles traveling to and from gas pumps and to and from parking places," Melton said.

So the company instead leads pedestrians behind the store with a series of handicapped accessible ramps to conquer the grade and connect with the city's trail system.

"Normally, we want them to connect to the street," Peters said. "But there's just no normal way. So, the pedestrian flows have been sent back on the safest routes.

"It looks like the intent of the code was met in a very unique way. It's not a variance, but a revision," he said.

Casey's officials keep a catalog of store designs to meet specific topographic and demographic conditions, Melton said. "This store is the U-3."

He also said good sites for building in Northwest Arkansas are gone, and developers must use creative means to meet the needs of both the city and the store.

The Planning Commission rezoned the 1.5-acre property from agricultural to commercial use during its November meeting. The City Council approved it Nov. 24.

The commission still must approve more specific construction drawings, and then company can obtain building permits and get construction started, Melton said.

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWALaurinda

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