Panera to locate at former Ground Round

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, February 1, 2014

JANESVILLE—Panera Bread will put its new Janesville restaurant at the site formerly occupied by Ground Round, spurring city staff to look for ways to improve traffic at a problematic intersection nearby.

Panera Bread announced in January via a tweet its intention to open in Janesville by the end of the year.

Now that the company has formally committed, city staff members said they could talk about the 1.7-acre site at the northwestern corner of Milton Avenue and Lodge Drive.

The city's planning department Friday mailed letters to property and business owners in the Ground Round area alerting them of a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, at City Hall.

Meeting topics include the Panera Bread project and the additional traffic it will generate, recommendations to handle the traffic within the city-owned right-of-way and possible alternatives on surrounding properties.

“We know we have traffic congestion problems already along that frontage road, and the reason is largely because of the design,” city planner Duane Cherek said.

“We know the traffic issues are only going to increase with redevelopment of the Ground Round site.”

The eventual result will be a “win-win” for the community by improving traffic and bringing a business to town that many people have wanted for some time, Cherek said.

Carl Weber, pubic works director, said the city will explore options to improve the intersection of Milton Avenue and Lodge Drive.

“Frontage roads are a flawed concept” because there is not adequate distance between the frontage road and Milton Avenue to handle multiple turning movements and queued traffic, Weber said.

The problems at Lodge Drive are similar to intersections all along the frontage road, he said.

“We would never build it like that again,” Weber said.

Fixing the frontage problems within the public right-of-way would be difficult and expensive, he said.

“We've taken the position recently that when redevelopment occurs, we will look for opportunities to mitigate the impact of the frontage road,” Weber said.

The city, for example, moved the frontage road away from Milton Avenue and Old Humes Road when Wal-Mart relocated and Hobby Lobby moved in.

City staff also worked with property owners near Target to connect private roads to improve traffic flow near Kwik Trip and the new US Cellular building.

Culver's recently used a platted alley behind its building to build a back entrance to its store so customers can avoid the Milton Avenue frontage road.

The Ground Round property is not large enough to accomplish what was done at Hobby Lobby, Weber said.

A traffic study indicates the intersection could at least be improved by channeling traffic and removing a stop sign, Cherek said.

“As part of this discussion, we would like to share a wider array of alternatives that have been considered as possibilities that go beyond the right-of-way,” he said.

Panera Bread is working to get a conditional-use permit, which requires approval by the plan commission.

The restaurant would be about 4,300 square feet with a drive-through and outdoor seating, said Brian Schweigl, associate planner.

“This is an exciting project,” Cherek said. “We've in the last year or two years experienced, I would say, fairly robust commercial redevelopment along the Milton Avenue corridor … That's a good sign for the community.

“It's a clear indication that the market is stabilizing out there, and we want to embrace that.”

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