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The Depot Express coming to Liberty High area

Site plan approved for new convenience store
The site plan for The Depot Express, a convenience store and 24/7 gas station, was approved by the North Liberty City Council in December. It’s to be located at the corner of North Liberty Road and Dubuque Street, near Liberty High School, and scheduled to open in August. (architectural rendering by Neumann Monson Architects of Iowa City)

NORTH LIBERTY– Commuters visiting and returning from the southeast side of North Liberty will soon have another option for filling up the gas tank, and their stomachs.
At a meeting Dec. 13, members of the North Liberty City Council unanimously approved the site plan for The Depot Express, a 5,700-square-foot gas station and convenience store to be located at the northwest corner of Dubuque Street and North Liberty Road, directly west of Liberty High School.
“I’ve actually been going to The Depot for a long time, where the kids went to school in Oxford, where the first one was,” said council member Brian Wayson. “They are a pretty good community partner. And they have pretty good pizza, so I’m excited about that.”
The Depot Express has eight locations in Iowa, three of which– and soon to be a fourth– are located in the Iowa City area. One already exists along First Avenue in Coralville, just 2.5 miles from the future North Liberty Road site, which will eventually include a car wash.
“We really like the North Liberty area,” said Matt Scheetz, director of operations at The Depot Express. “We’re a couple miles down the road in Coralville and have enjoyed the community there. We just thought we’d expand.”
Birthed from a 1975 service station in Oxford, the local chain now offers online ordering and in-store pick-up for a variety of items such as pizza, sandwiches and wings. There is also a customer loyalty program called The Depot Club and fuel pumps are operated 24/7.
Scheetz noted three of The Depot Express locations– Tiffin, Van Horne and Benton Community– are also in close proximity to schools, so being near Liberty High won’t be too much of a change.
“Each community’s different,” Scheetz added. “We try to be as involved as we can, being a family-run business. We try to help out the schools as much as we can with donations and what-not.”
Scheetz added there are no set hours for the store yet, but the family business hopes to have the North Liberty location up-and-running by August to coincide with the high school’s opening.
According to the site plan approval request, the location– set on about two acres– will offer both pedestrian and vehicular circulation, ample parking and an outside patio­, which could be particularly attractive to high school students.
“This is a case where both the architect and engineer were in talking with the staff very early before the plan was submitted to discuss access and building design, and I think that this site reflects those efforts to do a nice job on the site and a nice job fitting it into the city’s overall plan for this area,” said City Planner Dean Wheatley.
The site plan, prepared by Brain Engineering Inc. of Cedar Rapids, denotes two entrances to the store and gas pumps– one via North Liberty Road and another along Dubuque Street, where customers will be required to enter from the east and exit to the west due to an existing median, part of the new roundabout.
There is also access to the Iowa River Corridor Trail, and the convenience store offers multiple bike racks.
However, council member Annie Pollock voiced concern about the trail crossing the vehicular entrances– particularly the Dubuque Street entrance where she said bikers might not see a vehicle after coming around the bend from the northwest.
“I’m just trying to be mindful so there’s not a collision of any sort,” she said. “I think it’s a very well traveled path, and people could gain a lot of speed coming around that corner.”
She suggested signs to notify bikers and vehicles, but Wheatley noted trail signage must be uniform and any signage at The Depot Express would require the same treatment where a trail crosses a driveway.
According to the site plan, official pedestrian access would be restricted to the Dubuque Street side, but council member Chris Hoffman asked whether additional pedestrian markings could be added on the North Liberty Road side.
“As human beings, we’re going to take the path of least resistance,” he said, adding high school students would likely not go the extra mile to access the pedestrian sidewalk on the south side.
Dan Schmidt, of Brain Engineering, said it could be possible to eliminate some landscaping and include pedestrian markings– but not a separated sidewalk– from the east.
“If it’s marked so a motorist knows that’s where pedestrians are going to cross, because they will, then at least you’ve done some work ahead of time to recognize that humans will do what humans do and give them that access and show them we’ve thought about you in advance,” Hoffman added.
With few objections and concerns the site plan was approved, 5-0, by city council members.