Janesville City Council nixes bar, volleyball courts

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
— The Janesville City Council on Monday listened to neighbors who said they feared noise and drunken patrons, then rejected a request to open a bar with connected volleyball courts.

After voting 3-3 on the request, members told Matt DeWitt, a partner in the bar plan, that he could return to the council and try again when the full council is seated.

Russ Steeber was absent.

But DeWitt, who with his partners had worked for a year on the project, was visibly shaken after the meeting and said he didn't know if he would return to the council.

DeWitt and Kim Brown hoped to open Sneakers Bar & Grill in the former Basics Co-op on Woodman Road just off Milton Avenue. The bar would have been 3,000 square feet and would have offered food, including homemade pizza.

Both the city's Alcohol License Advisory Committee and the plan commission gave the venture positive recommendations. Staff had recommended against the outdoor volleyball courts, where alcohol would be allowed, because it had never been done here before.

However, it was acknowledged the practice is common in other cities with no problems.

The plan commission in its recommendation stipulated no lights and that volleyball would not run past 9 p.m. instead of the requested 10 p.m. in deference to neighbors' complaints.

Seven neighbors spoke against the venture Monday.

"I know what alcohol does, I've seen it," said Richard Schuler, 1126 Woodman Road. "I don't want to see this in my neighborhood. It's just a bomb waiting to go off. It will happen, and somebody's going to die."

His wife, Patricia, recalled how the former Slick's in the same area generated noise, traffic and trouble. She said DeWitt can police his bar but has no control once a patron leaves and hits a child or elderly person while driving intoxicated.

But Brown pointed to other bars such as Jumbo's Pub that are near homes with no problems.

"We're coming in as good neighbors," she said. She said the bar would bring jobs to Janesville, including one for DeWitt, who is laid off from General Motors.

Other speakers noted the location is near Milton Avenue and the baseball fields.

Bill Truman, George Brunner and Tom McDonald voted against granting the license. Voting in favor were Frank Perrotto, Kathy Voskuil and Yuri Rashkin.

Brunner said his phone has been ringing since the venture became public.

He said he thinks the neighbors have legitimate concerns and didn't think there is enough screening between the neighbors and the building. He also called the business "invasive" and preferred it operate for a while without the courts, then come back and ask for them.

DeWitt said at the plan commission meeting that the courts are part of his business plan.

McDonald said he thinks the bar and volleyball courts are a great concept and he'd love to see it in Janesville, but not at the proposed location.

Bill Truman, too, felt the proposed location was a problem.

"The people came out to voice their opinion, and we listened," he said, adding he believes there are locations that would accommodate the venture better. "I think there will be risks with the noise and the motorcycles."

Yuri Rashkin is a member of the Alcohol License Advisory Committee and said the police had no concerns about the venture.

"If the police department has no concerns, that's usually something that the ALAC respects," he said. Rashkin said he sympathized with neighbors but noted that 30 percent of alcohol establishments are in similar zoning and close to residential areas.

Frank Perrotto said the concerns of the residents are legitimate.

"Having said that, I believe this establishment deserves an opportunity to be a good neighbor."

He encouraged neighbors to call him with problems, and said he would not tolerate any violations.

"I only ask the neighbors to be a little bit tolerant, to give these people a chance," he said.

Kathy Voskuil said she sits on the plan commission and, after an extensive public hearing, the commission put restrictions on the business she believed were an adequate compromise.

Last updated: 11:45 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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