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December 03, 2013 | 02:38 PM
The vote was in before the mayor finished reading the resolution.

On Nov. 25 Lake Geneva City Council voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit for Kwik Trip, opening the way for the La Crosse-based company to build a convenience store/gas station on what is now 613, 630 and 700 Williams Street.

Mayor Jim Connors hadn’t even read through half of the resolution to grant Kwik Trip a conditional use permit to build on three Williams Street properties near North Street, when the council votes came in.

“Yes,” they said, unanimousaly.

The vote clears the way for Kwik Trip to remove three buildings from the site: a former gas station, a 40,000 square-foot former factory and a travel agency, now on three lots.

The company plans to build a 6,000 square-foot convenience store, six fuel pumps and a one-bay car wash.

The council uses an electronic vote-counting system that flashes the vote totals and how city council members voted on screens on either side of the council chambers.

“You’ve all voted before I finished reading the resolution,” Connors noted as he wrapped up his official duty.

City Clerk Tim Neubeck later admitted that he had pressed the button calling on the council members to vote just a little too early.

But from city council members’ comments, even if they had waited until after the mayor had read the resolution, the vote would have been the same.

At the Oct. 21 plan commission meeting, Kwik Trip representative Troy Mleziva estimated that Kwik Trip will invest $3 million in the new development.

Property owner Tom Landgraf, New Berlin, said it’s taken 17 years to find a buyer for the two-acre site.

The only alderman to previously cast a vote against Kwik Trip, Gary Hougen, made the motion to approve the conditional use.

At the Oct. 21 plan commission meeting, Hougen, who is also a commissioner, voted against recommending the conditional use. He also voted against rezoning the land and combining the lots into one.

Two years earlier, the city council rezoned the property from general business to planned development to make way for a proposed church. The church project did not pan out.

At plan commission, Hougen suggested that the city could do more to find an appropriate business for the site.

On Nov. 11, the city council voted 6-1 with one excused, to change the zoning on the proposed Kwik Trip site from planned development to general business.

By the same vote, the council combined the three lots into one.

Hougen was the only one to vote against those resolutions.

Hougen said that once the city council voted to change the zoning on the three parcels, his opposition became moot.

Convenience stores and gas stations are allowed by right in areas zoned general business.

The conditional use pertained to installing road access for the fueling island and the car wash.

“There will apparently be an adverse impact on surrounding gas stations and convenience stores, and that’s truly unfortunate,” Hougen said during the Nov. 25 meeting. “Unfortunately, the city cannot regulate the number of gas stations in town like it can liquor licenses.

“We can’t say to an investor ‘No, you can’t put a gas station there because there’s too many gas stations,’” he said.

Hougen added that the proposed development is more of a convenience store than a gas station, and it is primarily for the west side of the city, which has fewer food stores and restaurants than the east side.

Hougen also asked that the resolution include the requirement that Kwik Trip adhere to 14 amendments to its conditional use permit that were added by staff.

Those amendments were included in the final conditional use permit approved by council.

Since the Oct. 21 plan commission, the Kwik Trip proposal was publicly opposed by owners and operators of nearby gas stations and convenience stores and some local residents.

They argued that Kwik Trip proposal was just one too many gas stations in an area that already has too many.

Rick Mistretta, owner of the Lake Geneva Mobil station and Prairie State Oil, told the plan commission that gas stations pull their customers from roughly a three-mile-square area.

“This business doesn’t increase the pie, it just redistributes the pieces,” said Kaczmarek.

And the unspoken concern was that the surrounding gas stations would be missing a few pieces if Kwik Trip located here.

The city was also handed a petition with 750 names opposed to a Kwik Trip at that location.

Station owners Tom Kaczmarek and Jacqueline Brower, former alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier, and Richard Malmin, appeared at the Nov. 25 council meeting to make one last attempt to stop approval of the station.

“Greetings, frogs,” began Malmin, town of Linn.

According to Malmin, the two contradictory plan commission votes on the conditional use permit were evidence that the community has devolved into “cold-blooded power politics.”

Fesenmaier said the plan commission had only to indicate on the plan application that the project did not conform with the city’s master plan and did not fit into the current neighborhood uses to avoid a lawsuit.

“The staff will protect you from lawsuits,” said Fesenmaier.

“That’s what the staff is for.”

Those arguments did not convince the council members.

“The market place dictates competition,” said Alderwoman Sarah Hill. “I find it a little ironic that people say that the location between two gas stations is not a good location for a gas station. You’d think that’s the perfect place for a gas station.”

“The more stores we have the more people who will flock into an area,” said Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe.

Kehoe said if business owners focus on improving their own stores, they won’t have to worry about competition.

“Please don’t pick on each other,” she said.

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