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Young Auditorium

December 17, 2013 | 04:28 PM
Kwik Trip now has all the permission it needs to locate a convenience store/gas station on a two-acre site on Williams Street.

While the arguments for and against the project were heated and sometimes personal, some supporters conceded that it wasn’t the highest and best use for the property.

As City Planner Michael Slavney explained, Kwik Trip was simply the best and most viable proposal the city had seen in the past 17 years.

A Lake Geneva alderman now wants the city to start reviewing the in-fill projects proposed for the city’s vacant and under-used properties.

Alderman Gary Hougen, the Lake Geneva City Council’s representative on the plan commission, voted for the conditional use permits to give Kwik Trip clearance to build on Williams Street, but he’s not happy about it.

At the Dec. 12 city council committee of the whole meeting, Hougen suggested that the council, or somebody in the city, audit the city zoning map.

In an email reply to a Regional News query, Hougen said he wants to see where the zoning is “out of whack with the map of future land use in the comprehensive plan.”

He said that many rundown areas, for example, the former railroad right of way, where the Kwik Trip plans to locate, are slated for “planned mixed use” in the plan.

The plan explains that this is “a carefully controlled mix of commercial and residential uses … a carefully designed blend of mixed residential, planned office, planned business, planned industrial and institutional community services.”

That’s a pretty broad mixture.

Hougen said he wants the city to devise a way to capture the right kinds of businesses and uses for the right kinds of locations.

Hougen said he’s not against the city’s comprehensive plan.

“I like the comprehensive plan,” he said. “It is forward-looking and involved community and residential input. It gives political weight to the citizens of the community.”

Hougen explained that zoning ordinances allow a certain number of conditional uses.

These can allow for any number of boisterous activities, sometimes envisioned by the plan, sometimes not.

“Development law heavily favors the investor,” Hougen said.

Hougen said he believes the city has to try to do things differently, instead of just waiting for investors and developers to decide what’s best.

He said the city could try to create conditions that favor desired outcomes.

“An old Norwegian proverb says, ‘Man will stand with mouth open for long time waiting for roast duck to fly in.’ But we know how to hunt ducks,” Hougen said.

Hougen said the city might do an inventory of undeveloped, underdeveloped or blighted parcels, then prioritize them according to desired fit and function.

“Then we assemble financing,” he said.

The state just approved quadrupling the historical property tax write off, so that could be part of the package, he said.

As an example, the former Hillmoor Golf Course might qualify, Hougen said.

He said the city could use TIF money. “I know this will cause groans,” Hougen said. “In my mind, however, TIF money has been used for everything but what it ought to be used for, which is developing derelict property to attract investors.”

Hougen suggested the city might pay the owner of a subject property fair market value, build a demonstration building on the site and then look for investors.

“What should we look for?” Hougen asked “I’ve always thought some kind of technology startup would provide the kind of good-paying jobs we need.”

Mayor Jim Connors, who chairs the plan commission, said he wants to talk about Hougen’s proposal with Slavney.

The city does not have an economic development agency of its own, and Connors said the city might need to coordinate its economic development more closely with the Lake Geneva Economic Development Corp., which developed the city’s industrial park on Edwards Boulevard.


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