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Chili's plans restaurant on Janesville lot that used to house a Perkins

JANESVILLE

A Chili’s it is.

The owner of a vacant lot at Milton Avenue and Humes Road on Janesville’s northeast side told The Gazette his family’s trust is readying the corner lot where he razed a former Perkins restaurant building last August.

Jeff Woodman is a Verona resident whose family for generations has owned the hot corner on the city’s busy, northeast side retail strip. He said casual restaurant chain Chili’s is ready to pull the trigger on developing a 5,100-square-foot restaurant on the site.

In a phone interview Monday, Woodman didn’t pinpoint a timeline on the project, but he said he has been hashing out a development deal with Chili’s for parts of the last two years.

Negotiations and the plan itself had gone on hold during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Woodman said.

Woodman said he said he’s now “excited” to get moving on a new use for the vacant lot.

The Perkins had remained vacant for more than a year after it closed in 2019 as part of corporate downsizing by Perkins’ parent company. Woodman ultimately razed the Perkins last year when it became clear developers and restaurant operators were interested in the property but not the existing building.

Woodman last year told The Gazette a few other chain restaurant companies eyed the spot, but those companies would only develop if Woodman sold them the parcel.

Woodman said he intends to retain ownership of the land, which is where his family operated a farm before it became the busy commercial hub it is now.

On Monday, Woodman said he had earlier discussions with a local restaurant operator who was considering adding a second restaurant location in Janesville, but he said those talks fell apart.

Brinker International, the holding company that owns and operates Chili’s and other chain restaurant brands, would handle development and construction of the Chili’s, Woodman indicated.

Chili’s is known for its slow-cooked, baby-back ribs and fajitas, but it has a broad menu. Chili’s has locations in Madison, Delavan and Rockford, Illinois.

Monday evening, the city of Janesville’s Plan Commission heard a brief description of the proposed Chili’s project.

The mention came as a procedural move by the city’s planning department to set an April 4 public hearing on special zoning requests Woodman and Chili’s still must get approved.

Those items include plans to rework a traffic entry to the planned parking lot at Chili’s and shared utility linkage, the city’s planning department said in a memo.

Woodman said the parking lot entry would be moved so it funnels out on the west side of the property rather than straight into a frontage road on the property’s east side.

Another difference between the planned Chili’s and the former Perkins, Woodman said, would be the Chili’s positioning on the lot. The Perkins was set back on the far west edge of the property. The new restaurant would be situated more in the center of the lot.

“Chili’s likes to be in the center of a lot so they have parking all around. So it’ll be be a nice, visible and aesthetically pleasing building,” Woodman said.

Woodman said he sees evidence that more people are beginning to return to in-restaurant dining based on emerging foot traffic into restaurants up and down the Milton Avenue and Humes Road corridors.

He added that he thinks the local restaurant industry is now on the mend.

“Some of the restaurants, it was like going 15 rounds against the champ,” Woodman said. “None of them came out without any bruises, but some got bloodied, and some others got knocked out. That’s the hard, cold facts, but things are on the rebound.”

He said he sees “a lot of good things” happening along the Milton Avenue corridor.

“That’s where the growth is, and so we’re happy to be a part of that,” Woodman said.


Government
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City of Janesville applying for state grant to help build new west-side pedestrian trails

Bike and walking trails are great for staying in shape and getting back to nature.

City planners also see the trails as ways to promote residential development.

Last week, the city of Janesville took steps to gain federal funding to expand a west-side bike trail.

The proposed first phase of the Fisher Creek Trail would branch off bike lanes on North Austin Road and Mineral Point Avenue near Parker High School and cover two-thirds of a mile from Dartmouth Drive to Austin Road.

David Salmon, a city planner, says the long-term plan is to connect County A and County D with pedestrian trails in the city and town of Janesville.

“We want to have a corridor that runs basically from the Robert O. Cook Memorial Arboretum all the way to Rockport Park,” Salmon said.

The city of Janesville will apply for a federally funded Wisconsin Department of Transportation administrative grant. If approved, the grant would cover 80% of the proposed project cost. The 20% share the city would pay would total $215,234.

“The trail would be entirely on the green belt, so there would be no land acquisition cost,” Salmon said. “The ($)215(,000) includes the cost of designs and the cost of construction and engineering.”

In addition to a new trail, the project envisions improving the crossings at Mineral Point Avenue and Court Street, Salmon said.

“The project will connect the surrounding west-side neighborhood to Parker High School and is the first segment of a long-term vision to develop a north-south trail corridor,” Salmon wrote in the grant application proposal approved by the Janesville City Council last week.

Salmon said trail expansion would provide other routes to schools and appointments that would not require motor vehicles.

The city’s long-range developmental plan for the west side also would benefit.

“When you talk about recreational trails like this, it is a huge amenity for developers for residential areas,” Salmon said. “It’s a built-in price in your housing.”

The expansion of residential housing near Parker High creates a need for the project, Salmon said.

“You have to connect the subdivision that is out there already to the rest of the city a little bit better,” Salmon said. “This would help put it on the radar.”

Salmon expects to receive approval of the application in the next couple of months.

“It would probably start next year at the earliest,” Salmon said.

Salmon also is preparing a grant application to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for another portion of the Fisher Creek Trail from Rockport Road to just past West Court Street. He plans to submit project plans to the city council for approval in April.

Janesville has more than 30 miles of city-managed bicycle and walking trails.

“We’re going to do a trail-use survey this summer to update our usage numbers,” Salmon said. “One of the things that has been going on the last couple of years is an increase in the on-street biking infrastructure.”

West Court Street is scheduled for redesign and rebuild work in 2025, Salmon said. Those plans include on-street bike lanes that will run from the Five Points intersection to Waveland Road.

“One of the nice things about this trail is once it gets built and the infrastructure happens, there is going to be really nice connections from those neighborhoods,” Salmon said.


Death_list
Obituaries and death notices for March 22, 2022

Zachary C. “Zach” Clowes

George C. Hatzinger Jr.

Harley Andrew Jung

Joseph Kompare

Lisa L. (Graber) Kramar

Joan E. Norby

Timothy E. O’Leary

Michael Swain

Lois M. Walker

Thomas Jeffery Webb


Education
JANESVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT
Public left out of meetings with Janesville School District superintendent finalists

JANESVILLE

The three finalists for Janesville School District superintendent will participate in meet-and-greet events with Forward Janesville and community leaders next week, but the events will not be open to the public, board member Greg Ardrey told The Gazette on Monday.

The events will be held at the Janesville Country Club, 2615 W. Memorial Drive, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 28; Wednesday, March 30; and Thursday, March 31. Each day will dedicated to one finalist.

The district announced the three finalists Thursday, all of whom are current superintendents in Wisconsin. The finalists are Mark Holzman of the Manitowoc Public School District, Ryan Krohn of the Stone Bank School District near Oconomowoc and Cassandra Schug of the Watertown Unified School District.

Ardrey said each will have daylong interviews and tours of the district in the last week of March. The board hopes to choose its next superintendent March 31 and announce the decision publicly April 12.

Members of the Janesville School Board may participate in the meet-and-greet events if they choose, but Ardrey said the board will be meeting privately with each of the candidates.

The current superintendent, Steve Pophal, will retire this June.

In December, the district chose consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a search, and it began holding public input sessions and posted an online survey in February.

More than 1,000 people took the survey and attended focus groups, with some of the top desired qualities in the next superintendent being an ability to be transparent and visible, to foster a positive climate of mutual trust, and to set high expectations.

Ardrey said the survey turnout was crucial to creating a good candidate profile, but it appears the survey will have been the public’s only opportunity to weigh in on the hire. The board hopes the new superintendent can meet with Pophal before his retirement.


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