Some south-side Janesville residents have clamored for a full-size grocery store to fill the former Pick ‘n Save building on Center Avenue.
The plan commission put a damper on that hope Monday night when it voted 5-1 to rezone 12.9 acres of the 18.6-acre commercial site to light industrial. Jens Jorgensen voted against the move, and Carl Weber was absent.
The action still requires full city council approval, but even if it passes the council, not all is lost for those who want to see a new grocery store at the site. The remaining commercial space could eventually attract a smaller grocer to face Center Avenue.
Light industrial zoning could result in a wide range of manufacturing uses from assembly to warehousing, but it does not cover heavy manufacturing uses, senior planner Brian Schweigl said.
The building has been empty since Pick ‘n Save moved out in November 2017, leaving the south side without a major grocery store. Janesville’s economic development office contacted nine regional grocers, but none was interested in the site, according to a city memo.
Local developer Jim Grafft and his family bought the property in January 2018 through their development group, 1717 4GK. They requested the zoning change because they thought the 137,000-square-foot building was more viable as an industrial site, Grafft said Monday.
Planning director Duane Cherek said if the area abutting Center Avenue—now a parking lot—was redeveloped into a few commercial buildings, it would block the view of the old Pick ‘n Save and diminish its commercial appeal for customers.
Changing the area of the property set farther back from Center Avenue to industrial could lead to a revived manufacturing campus because the former JATCO site is adjacent and the former GM plant is nearby. A new Pick ‘n Save tenant would join the existing Fab Masters metal fabrication plant, also owned by the Graffts, just north of the old grocery.
Mike Venable, a broker with Commercial Property Group, which is marketing the property, said there is no plan to connect to the JATCO and GM sites, but the plan commission discussed the possibility of extending either Conde Street or Joliet Street east through the JATCO property to reach South Jackson Street.
The plan commission also discussed extending rail access to the former grocery, although neither that idea or the extended street idea have any firm timeline.
Grafft told the commission he hoped new construction along Center Avenue would include a grocery store but that the old Pick ‘n Save made the most sense as a light industrial property, possibly something in the technical field that requires air conditioning and a clean workspace. The building already has air conditioning. It’s possible it could eventually be divided to allow for multiple tenants, he said.
The commission approved the rezoning with a modification to move the property’s truck entrance and exit to Conde and Lafayette streets. That would make use of an existing stoplight at Conde Street and Center Avenue.
Only one resident, Judy Adler, spoke against the zoning change during the public hearing, saying an industrial tenant would do nothing to beautify a tired-looking corridor on the south side.
Residents will have one more opportunity to voice opinions at next week’s Jan. 28 council meeting, which will include another public hearing and possible final council approval.