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November 19, 2013 | 02:46 PM
Kwik Trip’s request for a conditional use permit took another trip back to the Lake Geneva City Council on Monday, but this time with a recommendation for approval from the Lake Geneva Plan Commission.

The commission voted 5-0 with two absent to recommend approval of the conditional use permit necessary for the La Crosse-based company to build a six-pump filling station with a 6,000-square-foot convenience store and one-bay car wash on what is now 612, 630 and 700 Williams St. The properties total about two acres.

The conditional use request could end up in front of the city council for final approval on Nov. 25.

It’s now up to the city council to decide whether to follow the commission’s recommendation. A simple majority of council members present will need to approve the conditional use, City Attorney Dan Draper after the plan commission meeting.

It will take a vote of five council members, no matter the size of the quorum, to turn down the commission’s recommendation, Draper said.

This was not Kwik Trip’s first kick at the cat. The company came before the plan commission on Oct. 21.

And there, the company’s proposal met strong opposition from local gas station and convenience store owners.

The difference was that the plan commission at that meeting voted 5-2 to deny the conditional use permit for Kwik Trip.

However, the commission did recommend approval of rezoning from planned development to general business for the three lots on which Kwik Trip wanted to build. Only Alderman Gary Hougen, the council’s representative on the plan commission, voted against the rezoning.

The city council on Oct. 28, with little fanfare, voted 7-0 to approve the rezoning. Following the plan commission’s recommendation, Hougen voted with the majority.

That may have been the game-changer.

The council then kicked the Kwik Trip conditional use request back to the plan commission at the recommendation of City Attorney Draper, who advised the council that the plan commission vote did not follow procedure set by city ordinances.

The commission is required to make a written report to the council on why it approved or disapproved of a conditional use request, he said. The report must say whether the request for conditional use is in agreement with the city’s comprehensive plan.

And while the commissioners voted to deny Kwik Trip’s request for a conditional use, they failed to take a formal vote recommending the city council deny Kwik Trip’s request.

“While the council might be able to take action on the matter without a proper recommendation, such action would be subject to scrutiny and vulnerable to attack in a writ of certiorari,” Draper wrote in a memo to the council.

After the plan commission meeting on Monday, Draper said all he wanted was the plan commission to have a clear record on its decision. He said he didn’t care whether the Kwik Trip was approved or denied.

Although it didn’t have to, the Nov. 18 plan commission decided to redo the public hearing before reconsidering Kwik Trip’s conditional use request.

In many ways, the Nov. 18 hearing played out pretty much the same as the Oct. 28 hearing.

Kwik Trip representative Troy Mleziva estimated that the new convenience store/gas station would represent a $3 million investment. One of the fueling bays would be diesel, but for small vehicles and not semitrailers.

Mleziva also said the business would employ up to 30 people.

But at the Oct. 21 and again at the Nov. 18 commission meetings, Rick Mistretta, owner of the Lake Geneva Mobil station and Prairie State Oil, told commissioners that gas stations pull their customers from roughly a three-square-mile area. He said there are already too many gas stations in the city. He said Kwik Trip would not bring new business to Lake Geneva, but simply redistribute the pieces of the existing three-square-mile pie.

Jackie Brower of Cincinnati, owner of the Clark station at the corner of Williams and Marshall streets said she believes her share will be cut short.

“With so many gas stations built, my business will probably fold,” she told the commissioners on Monday.

Tom Kaczmarek argued that approving the Kwik Trip proposal would have an adverse impact on surrounding properties, that there was no proof provided by Kwik Trip that its refueling tankers could safely, refill the Kwik Trip fuel tanks and that the business would create a nuisance from an increase in traffic.

Kaczmarek, owner of the nearby Phillips filling station/convenience store, said he was convinced vehicles will stack up along Williams Street waiting to get into Kwik Trip.

Jim Strauss, Lake Geneva, who opposed the Kwik Trip proposal, said he was suspicious of the city council’s decision to send the plan commission’s original recommendation back to the commission.

Strauss said he believed that some deals were made “under the table.”

He said city residents should question how this conditional use request by Kwik Trip was handled by the plan commission and city council.

“You need to suspect your politicians,” Strauss said. “We’re playing three-card monte, make sure one of the card edges isn’t bent.”

Strauss also pointed out that Tom Hartz, a former alderman and plan commissioner who spoke in favor of Kwik Trip, voted against a proposed retail mini-mall for the same site four years ago. Later in the hearing, Hartz said the plan commission must decide based on whether the zoning supported the development proposed for the properties.

“I don’t think the competition with similar businesses is germane to the ordinance written for this decision,” Hartz said. “I do not envy you this vote.”

Hartz added that he did vote against the proposed mini-mall, but he said the person who requested the conditional for the mini-mall did not have a sound plan to develop the mall.

Haugen, who had voted against the conditional use permit at the Oct. 21 meeting, now moved to approve Kwik Trip’s proposal. He said the rezoning approved by the city council Oct. 28 was the reason he changed his vote.

According to Draper, under the general business zoning, gas stations and convenience stores are allowed.

City Planner Michael Slavney said the conditional use permit was required for the car wash drive through and the drive through to the convenience store.

Commission members Hougen, Mayor Jim Connors, Doug Skates, John Gibbs, Ken Robers and Kristen Olson all voted for the conditional use permit.

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