Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Linn board denies Trossenís request

by Chris Schultz

August 25, 2011

LINN — The Town Board isn't going to change its Master Plan map to make way for John Trossen's new business plan.

In March, Trossen, owner of The Pier, N1806 Linn Road, filed petitions asking the town to amend the Master Plan and rezone about 1-1/2 acres near The Pier, about a half-mile from the shore of Geneva Lake and the area known as the "Linn Pier" boat launch and beach, to business use.

After hearing more than an hour of comment both for and against the map change during a public hearing Monday, on a 5-0 vote, the board said no.

Board members said that the town Master Plan identifies just two areas suitable for business development, and the area around The Pier is not one of them. The town Master Plan was approved in 2004, said Town Board Chairman Jim Weiss.

The land around Trossen's property is set aside for residential use.

The Pier is essentially a convenience store and the store has been there in one form or another for more than 70 years.

Weiss said that when the Master Plan was completed, old, long-established business locations like The Pier were grandfathered in. But The Pier's location in a residential area amounts to spot zoning, he said.

If there were no business there, and someone came to that 2-1/2 acres wanting to zone it for business, "would you say yes?" Weiss asked rhetorically. "I don't think you would," he answered quickly.

This should end the map debate, said Town Attorney David Schilz. But if Trossen is able to convince the Walworth County Zoning Agency to change the town's Master Plan despite the Town Board vote, then Trossen's proposal would come back to the town as a rezoning request, Schilz said.

If the Town Board then voted against the zoning change, the issue would end there, because the town has the final veto over zoning changes, he said.

Trossen's request was to clear the way for him to build a facility to store and do minor repair on boats and other marine vehicles.

Trossen bought the property in 1998. Previously, it was used as a restaurant, small gas station and soda shop with an attached single-family residence. Trossen converted the restaurant into a country store which includes a fishing guide service on Geneva Lake and sells fishing gear such as live bait and tackle, groceries, deli products, snacks and liquor.

According to the formal proposal, Trossen wanted to provide additional parking and build an accessory structure on the 1-1/2 acres near the store to provide off-season inside storage and provide space for the "minor servicing" of boats and other marine vehicles.

His proposal called for the construction of building about 80-by-180 feet and 16 feet high. About a third of the floor would have been poured concrete, and the balance graveled, the plan stated.

The concrete floor area would be Trossen's fishing guide service and where he would do the "minor servicing of boats and other marine vehicles," according to the plan.

In his presentation to the board, Trossen said he needed 1-1/2 acres near his business to be rezoned for business so he could put up an accessory building.

Opposition came from residential neighbors, including The Birches Property Owners Association, who said they didn't want a full-fledged business in their neighborhood. They also worried about an increase in traffic that might result from a boat storage operation in their neighborhood.

Attorney Steven Koch, representing a number of residents living around The Pier, argued that Trossen did not fill out the petition to change the Master Plan map properly.

Koch also argued that Trossen's request runs against the very purpose of the plan.

"The plan does not provide for this to be commercial property," Koch told the board.

The Geneva Lake Conservancy and Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, also sent letters in opposition, concerned that a boat repair operation risked increasing the amount of pollutants being released into the Geneva Lake watershed.

Supporters argued that Trossen needs to expand the scope of his business or go out of business. Most of those supporting Trossen's request argued that he was a neighbor and honest businessman with five children who needed to grow his business for it to survive.

"If John doesn't get this he may not be here in a year," said Richard Mell, a Linn resident. "The economy is tough, he needs this proposal to be approved."

Matt Brueck of Chicago, president of a bass club, said he brings people to Linn specifically because of Trossen, who is also a fishing guide. Those people pay to park and shop in Linn, said Brueck.

If Trossen were to leave, the club would probably go elsewhere, he said.

In rebuttal to those opposed to his plan, Trossen said his proposal wouldn't add to the traffic, it would reduce traffic by the 20 boats and trailers that would be stored on his property.

He said about a third of his proposed building would be used to expand business he already does at The Pier, particularly small boat repair and installing fish finders.

Finally, Trossen said, his facility would have an epoxy-sealed concrete floor that would catch any polluted runoff which would drain into a holding tank.

"I respect Mr. Trossen and what he wants to do," said Stu Bieber, a Linn resident. Nonetheless, he said, he opposed the map change.

As the owner of two properties in the neighborhood, the nature of Trossen's proposed business could drive the value of his land down, Bieber said. It could also create a precedent that would lead to more businesses moving into the area, he added.