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Aurora Health Care

City should approve Kwik Trip proposal



Column_headshot_JOHN_HA
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November 12, 2013 | 03:23 PM
The basics of the Kwik Trip issue are spelled out in the accompanying Q&A.

Here’s what I think:

It’s not up to the Plan Commission or the city council to pick winners and losers when it comes to a business enterprise. The responsibility of those two bodies is to determine if the zoning request is proper.

To allow the city to pick favorites not only undercuts free enterprise, it clearly shows favoritism and encourages a good ol’ boys’ network. Showing bias is something some of the Kwik Trip opponents would argue against in other situations.

This isn’t a case of an outside monster destroying two local gas stations. The Mobil Station is owned by someone from Elkhorn.

The Clark Station is owned by a woman from Cincinnati. She has Lake Geneva roots but doesn’t live here now.

Other businesses have gone into areas with competitors and no one has screamed about that. Would Fleming’s have a right to complain if another Irish clothing store opened nearby?

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That also begs the issue about the negatives of competition. There are four, soon to be five, fast food restaurants, right next to each other on Wells Street. There are half-dozen traditional restaurants next to each other on Wrigley Drive. Why would those businesses congregate near each other if competition was so hurtful?

By the same token, why shouldn’t another gas station be able to move next to other gas stations? For years, four gas stations in Delavan have coexisted within a mile or two of each other, including two right across the street from each other.

The only businesses that should fear competition are those that think their competitor will have a better product. Even if it were the city council’s job to pick winners and losers, isn’t it in the best interest of the city to make way for the better business — not the weaker one?

The gas station alley argument doesn’t make sense. If all three gas stations remain, then there’s no competitive issue.

If one or two fail, then there is no gas station alley because we’ll have one or two gas stations where we have two now.

Even the argument that local jobs would be in jeopardy is questionable.

Kwik Trip would probably hire more local people than the other two stations combined.

And if anyone loses a job at one of the stations, they’d probably be able to get a job at Kwik Trip.

There’s an argument that if Kwik Trip puts the other two stations out of business, we’d have two blighted properties. Even if that’s the case, we’d have one less blighted property than we have now.

Neither of the current gas stations are of historic significance except for pure longevity. No one will mistake them for the Riviera or the Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel that was torn down in the 1960s.

Draper has been criticized for sending the issue back to the Plan Commission, but he’s just doing his job. Those criticizing him are among those who have been “letter of the law” people before. Apparently, their by-the-book approach doesn’t apply if it gets in the way of their agenda.

If the Plan Commission turns down the conditional use request, they’re required to list reasons. That’s what they failed to do the last time, as Draper noted in a memo to the council.

If the reasons to reject the Kwik Trip amendment aren’t legitimate enough, the city would possibly be open to a lawsuit. There’s no case law in Wisconsin saying competition can’t be used as a reason, but there is in other states.

The responsibility of the Plan Commission and the city council is to follow the law.

Opening the city up to a lawsuit is a dumb thing.

I know members of the Plan Commission and council are being told by their friends to reject Kwik Trip. That has to tug at them just as I know some of my friends will disagree with me.

But it’s not the job of the editor or city government to do what our friends want if doing it is the wrong thing.

As a caveat, I do respect Alderman Gary Hougan for fighting the project — not because I think he’s right, but because the area where Kwik Trip wants to go is in his district.

Many of the 750 who signed the petition are his constituents.

I’d like to think many of those would change their minds if they took a clear-headed look at the situation. Petitions are easy to get signed and not necessary based on thoughtful reasoning, especially if the person handing you the petition is a friend with an agenda.

While I respect Hougan for standing up for them, I think both he and the 750 petition signers are wrong.

Standing up and backing a local business against a supposed Goliath is a cheap and easy thing to do, but it doesn’t square with the facts.

And, in this case at least, it’s simply not the right thing.

Halverson is editor and general manager of the Regional News.

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