Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Fontana backing businesses

by Rob Ireland

April 19, 2012

FONTANA — Want to start a business in the village? Well, there is a process for that.

First, one must complete a form, called a building site and operational plan.

The BSOP asks the new business owner some questions — how many parking spots are available, the number of bathrooms on site and the proposed hours of operation.

Of course, filing this form isn't free. Depending on the type of BSOP, it costs either $325 or $125. Some businesses also need a conditional use permit, which requires more information about the business and a $325 fee.

After filing the permits and forking over the cash, the proposal appears before the village's Plan Commission and Village Board. Then, the village trustees will vote whether to approve the permits.

For a new business owner, this process may appear daunting and cumbersome. The village knows this and wants to work toward changing the perception on how it treats businesses.

In an effort to improve the relationship between the business community and Village Hall, the Village Board created a business committee. This group will act as a unified voice for local commerce issues.

So far, the community's entrepreneurs are receptive to the plan.

Fontana Jeweler owner Eric Hurkman said Village Administrator Kelly Hayden personally called him and asked him to serve on the committee.

"That is making a strong point that the people there, they've got the ball rolling on this," he said. "This should help put to rest that the village of Fontana is not business friendly. If they were, why would they even want this?"

Renee Cerny, owner of Frontier Flowers of Fontana, also supports the new committee.

"I think it is great that the village is fostering business and is being proactive about it," Cerny said.

Paulette Kawski, the proprietor of Thyme on Geneva Lake, started her business with her daughter about a year ago. Kawski prepares home-cooked meals, which her customers bring home to enjoy with their families. She views the creation of the business committee as a positive.

"I'm extremely pleased they are willing to address these needs, and they are seeking the experienced input the business community can offer," Kawski said.

Assistant Zoning Administrator and Code Specialist Bridget McCarthy wrote the ordinance for the business committee and said it is important for the village to hear from its business owners.

"I think getting that input from business owners is crucial because, personally, I don't have a business. I've never set up a business, I've never had to go through that process and I don't know, from that point of view, how to do it," McCarthy said. "They have the experience and they have that knowledge."

In August 2011, McCarthy surveyed the community's business owners and learned that Village Hall is often viewed as an obstacle to economic success.

This committee was created as an effort to combat that perception.

"The government is going to understand what the businesses are going through and the businesses are going to understand the government," McCarthy said.

Commercial treatment

Cerny has been through the process of receiving permits more than once. As her business expanded, she had to move to a larger location. Before the move, she had to file for permits.

"I can understand that the village wants to maintain its upscale appearance and they want to be selective about how the store fronts look, but it is daunting," Cerny said.

Cerny said had she not gone through the permitting process in the past, it may have appeared to be an imposing task.

"I think the business committee can help you with that," she said. "There is a lot of paperwork that you have to go through, and it's not that it's unnecessary — it's kind of a lot to digest."

McCarthy hopes that when a new business owner has a proposal, members of the business community can help provide them with guidance in going through the permitting process.

Hurkman is planning an expansion of his business and is going through the process of working with Village Hall all over again.

His expansion requires a CUP, but the $325 fee is just the tip of the iceberg. Hurkman not only has to pay his own professionals for the work, but he also funds the cost of the village's professionals to review his plans.

"The cost can be so high, it can be quite limiting to a new business," he said.

Business owners are required to sign a cost recovery agreement. With this agreement, the business must reimburse the village for any expenses it incurs while reviewing the permits.

"I understand it is important that the taxpayer shouldn't have to pay for someone like me to work with the village of Fontana," Hurkman said.

With his current project, Hurkman said the staff at Village Hall has been helpful.

"Working with the village, although the costs are expensive, everyone has been very supportive and involved in the planning of the project, especially Kelly Hayden," Hurkman said.

Although both Hurkman and Cerny said the village has a lot of rules, they believe it is probably not that much difficult than any other community.

What the committee will do

McCarthy said the committee may look at the approval process for certain projects. For example, the committee may feel too many regulations exist for signs.

As a group, it may also be easier for them to approach the village regarding a particular issue, McCarthy said.

McCarthy said the business committee may also provide some guidance to the village on ways to streamline the approval process.

"I can see opportunities for streamlining the process," McCarthy said. "I can see opportunities for making modifications to the process that make it easier for the applicant, and still maintain the integrity we want to keep for the village."