Janesville plan commission votes down Menards storage unit plan

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Marcia Nelesen
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

— A city plan commission member and a resident who both said they usually favor property owner rights could not give their blessings to a plan to turn the vacant Menards building on the city’s northeast side into mini-storage units.

The plan commission denied the request on a vote of 5-1, with commission Chairman Ed Madere, city councilwoman Kathy Voskuil and residents Douglas Marklein, George Brunner and Judy Adler voting “no,” and resident Robert Consigny voting “yes.”

After the vote, Madere told Menards attorney Ben Weiland to tell his colleagues the city and chamber are “most anxious to work with Menards to do whatever we can to enhance that property and make an A1 commercial development that would benefit the entire area.”

Menards opened a new store at 2001 Morse St., in 2008, and its former store and outbuildings at 2700 Pontiac Place have been vacant since. The company has converted two other vacant buildings in two other state cities into climate-controlled storage units.

City staff recommended against issuing a permit for the plan, saying the 15-acre parcel is in a prime commercial regional area in a gateway corridor to the city. Planning department member Duane Cherek said the property should be put to the “highest and best use” so as not to hurt other property values in the area and to adhere to the city’s comprehensive plan.

Weiland assured council members Menards has priced the property competitively and would continue to market the building to a commercial buyer. But in the meantime, he said, Menards could make money and still draw some traffic to the area, neither of which is happening now.

Brunner worried the improvements to the building would only make the sale to someone else more expensive. He also noted the business would create only two to three jobs.

“Things are picking up (commercially),” Brunner said. “There could be some opportunity there, and we could miss that.”

Two business neighbors, Barb Fairclough of the Janesville Comfort Shoppe and Jim Thorpe of Carney, Davies & Thorpe, spoke against the permit, as did Dan Cunningham from Forward Janesville.

Cunningham said any redevelopment would be “catalytic” for the surrounding area, near what soon will be an eight-lane interstate.

“That makes this site a rare opportunity indeed,” he said.

Thorpe said he was reluctantly testifying against the permit, given his inclination to let people do as they wish with their own property. But the neighborhood has been hurt by the economic downtown, he said, and this proposed use would not help and would not change what now is an unattractive building.

Janesville made the Menards store here successful, Thorpe said.

“In my humble opinion, it’s time for Menards to try to do something for the city,” he said.

Possibly, Menards could reduce the price of the property a bit to end the current “obnoxious” holding pattern, Thorpe said.

Marklein, too, said he tended to believe people who own property should be allowed to do what they wish with it as long as it’s legal. But it is best for the community to put this property to its “highest and best use,” he said.

“The market is improving, and a commercial site of this size and in the area are rare and expensive,” Marklein said.

Consigny noted Menards has been trying to sell the building for five years and should be allowed to make some money, with certain provisions incorporated into the permit. He added that access to the site must be improved if a high-intensive use is found.

Menards could appeal the commission’s decision to the city’s zoning board of appeals and then, if necessary, to the circuit court.

Last updated: 10:34 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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