Plan Commission clears way for proposed fueling station, convenience store
In a reversal to a hotly contested decision made last year, the Village of Saukville Plan Commission voted last week to approve conditional-use permits that clear the way for the construction of a Kwik Trip gas station, car wash and convenience store.
According to the company, the 5,600-square-foot convenience store, fueling station, car wash and improvements will add about $4 million to the village’s tax base.
Representatives for the La Crosse company, which has nearly 500 stores around the state, presented virtually identical plans last year for the vacant 5.5-acre parcel at the northeast corner of Highway 33 and Foster Street.
At that time, the commission vote 4-2 to deny an environmental waiver needed for the fueling station. That decision was upheld by a split vote of the Board of Appeals, blocking the Kwik Trip development.
The results were much different when the plans were brought forward for reconsideration last Thursday.
Much of the hour-long public hearing was taken up by officials representing Kwik Trip detailing the safety measures that the company plans to put into place to ensure the protection of nearby wetlands.
The primary grounds for the village denying the plans last year was that the site and its proposed fueling station are within 600 feet of a wetlands, in violation of village ordinances.
That restriction can be waived, however, if the company can prove that sufficient safety measures can be put into place to protect the environment.
Hans Zietlow, Kwik Trip’s director of real estate, said state-of-the-art double-walled fuel tanks would be installed on the property and that extensive landscaping would raise the construction site by four feet to remove it from any wetlands.
A system of curbing and storm sewers are also planned to keep any accidentally spilled fuel from migrating into the Milwaukee River waterway.
Zietlow said the company has had interest in the Saukville location since 2007.
“I don’t know if there is any other community in Wisconsin that is as restrictive in its setback requirements as Saukville. State statutes set the setback requirement at 75 feet,” he said.
Consulting engineers hired by the company said the measures would minimize any risk to the wetlands.
During a public hearing on the proposal, the owners of several nearby gas stations/convenience stores said they were also worried about what the presence of a Kwik Trip would mean to their businesses.
Tom Beck, owner of Beck’s Green Bay Ave. Mart which adjoins the proposed Kwik Trip site, said approving the newcomer would be devastating for existing businesses.
“There is only so much of the pie to go around. A company with 500 stores is pretty hard to compete against,” Beck said.
“With three gas stations in a town of 4,000 people, a fourth would be impossible to support.”
Beck also cited concerns with how the traffic flow to the Kwik Trip would affect access to the drive which leads to his gas station and the McDonald’s.
Dominic Aliota, owner of the Mid City Quick Mart Citgo station, also said allowing Kwik Trip in the village would kill his business.
“I won’t be here much longer if they come in. I am barely surviving,” Alioto said. “I will become a boarded-up business and you will lose my taxes.”
Although commission members were sympathetic with the challenges another competitor could post, Village Attorney Gerald Antoine said such concerns could not be considered when voting on the conditional-use permit.
“You cannot deny a conditional-use permit because ‘we don’t want a gas station there,’ or ‘we don’t want more competition.’ Your decision must be based on the facts presented and your judgment, not on your will,” Antoine said.
That advisory swayed commission members Bob Hamann and Mike Krocka — both Village Board trustees — to recuse themselves from voting on the permit, saying they couldn’t set aside last year’s denial in voting on the new application.
“I don’t know if I can keep my opinion out of my decision, but the company has put my mind at ease that there is very little risk to the wetlands,” Krocka said.
Another trustee, Mike Gielow, who said he was speaking as a resident and not a member of the Village Board, said Kwik Trip’s plan should be approved.
“I see it as being something good for the tax base and the Village of Saukville. I think it will tie in well with Camping World, which will become a destination retail site,” Gielow.
“I am a business owner and I get it that competition sucks, but it can also force you to be better, faster and smarter. I look at this proposal with open eyes.”
Commission member Richard Belling also said Kwik Trip had done enough to prove they deserve the needed permit.
“I am satisfied that with the technology and the systems they plan to put into place, that they have done everything they can. I am convinced the risk to the wetlands has been overstated,” Belling said.
He then made a motion to approve the conditional use permit, which initially failed to get a second. After several minutes, the motion was seconded.
“It is not up to the Plan Commission to regulate competition. I understand there is a sentiment of self-preservation for businesses in the village, but history has proven that competition is a win-win for consumers,” Belling said in making a renewed pitch to approve the permit.
The commission then voted 5-0 to approve the permit, with the two trustees not voting.
A follow-up vote approved the site plan, landscaping, lighting and signage for the business.
Road access plans have already been approved by the state Department of Transportation, with the commission attaching a condition that access be kept open to the neighboring Beck property.
An updated certified survey map, which includes a land division for an outlot on the north side of the property, was forwarded to the Village Board for final approval.
Zietlow said Kwik Trip is hopeful of attracting a hotel or sit-down restaurant to the rear lot.
“We are confident of bringing a desirable business to the community. We are less interested in making money on the sale of the land than we are in getting the best use for that parcel,” he told the commission.