Downtown food trailer plan stalled by council

Port aldermen table vote on Airstream eatery amid concerns about aesthetics, fairness to other businesses

A PROPOSAL TO place an Airstream trailer in a small grassy area at the corner of Franklin and Pier streets, shown here looking southeast from Pier Street, has proven to be controversial. The Airstream, a trailer much like the one in the photo at left, would serve ice cream and snacks. Main photo from Ozaukee Press files
Ozaukee Press staff

uggled with the idea of allowing an Airstream trailer food truck to operate on Franklin Street during the height of the city’s tourism season.

They, along with several residents who spoke during a public hearing, expressed concerns with the aesthetics of a trailer in a historic downtown, site plan issues and the fairness of allowing a business to operate from a trailer while other shops have the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store. 

Ultimately, the Common Council sent the issue back to the Plan Commission to look at questions of code compliance and the site plan on a 6-1 vote, with Ald. John Sigwart dissenting.

“There are a lot of things to be worked out yet,” Ald. Dan Benning said. “I like what you are planning for the site. I love the idea of developing this lot. It’s just a vacant piece of grass. 

“I like the novelty of the Airstream. I’m struggling with it sticking out like a sore thumb in the historic district.”

But Ald. Deb Postl, who made the motion to send the matter to the Plan Commission to clarify the zoning issues, said the trailer would be a welcome addition to downtown.

“I think it has the look of nostalgia,” she said, adding that the trailer would be unique enough that it would cater to a different clientele than other downtown businesses.

Nick and Melissa Suddendorf have proposed buying the vacant lot at the corner of Franklin and Pier streets, along with the adjacent building, and creating a park-like setting with benches, lights, a fire pit and the Airstream, from which they would sell ice cream, sundaes, shakes and sandwiches for lunch and dinner.

Nick Suddendorf said the couple considered the project a destination for families in the city, adding they believe the Airstream would be a good addition to the area.

“I feel like a classic Airstream trailer does fit in that area,” he said. “We really believe it would be a cool space. We want it to be a place for people to hang out.”

While the trailer would only be on the site from May 1 to Oct. 31, his wife has programming ideas for the holidays, Suddendorf added.

But not everyone agreed.

“I am opposed to the project,” said Sigwart, who stepped down from the council bench to address the council during the hearing. 

A trailer doesn’t fit in the downtown’s historic district, something the city has required every other property owner to do with their buildings, Sigwart said.

“We’ve worked hard to maintain the historic (downtown) district and we should continue that,” he said, noting that if the proposed Newport Shores redevelopment were downtown he would oppose that, too.

“If this was in Veterans Park, in the marina district, it might be more palatable,” Sigwart added. 

Sigwart, who questioned whether the site plan had been properly scrutinized, also cited the fact that the Airstream would be direct competition for the Heart of the Harbor fire sculpture and seating area that Port Main Street Inc. has planned for the far east end of Main Street. That, he said, is “a true public/private partnership.”

Jeff Lamont, 201 E. Main St., agreed, saying he does not believe the Airstream will fit in with historic downtown that draws residents and visitors.

“I have very grave concerns an Airstream trailer parked downtown ... is just not going to fit or match,” he said. 

He also expressed concern that the site is too small for all the amenities planned by the Suddendorfs.

“I just don’t think this is going to be appealing visually to anyone with this much stuff crammed in there,” Lamont said.

John Reichert, owner of the Chocolate Chisel, told the council, “We rely on our summer business to help carry us through our sluggish winters. A business so similar to ours that is only open in the peak three to four months of the year, skimming off a good part of the top cream —no pun intended —of our highest earning months could severely restrict our future growth in Port Washington.”

Reichert said that if the council approves the trailer, he would seek permission to convert his ice cream delivery truck into a food truck so he can sell the ice cream he makes in the city on Franklin Street and throughout the marina.

Ald. Pat Tearney said he’s concerned that allowing the Airstream is putting existing brick-and-mortar shops at a disadvantage, saying, “We want those businesses to flourish. I am a little concerned. 

“Are we encouraging people to shut down in winter? I don’t know if this is a real good precedent.”

Ald. Mike Gasper also questioned whether the council has the right to approve the trailer in downtown, saying the zoning code seems to prohibit it.

“If you take this trailer and park it here and use it for nothing, it is in clear violation of our zoning code,” Gasper said. “It’s completely non-conforming. This really does not fit in our code.”

But Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development, said the code pertaining to outdoor eating areas is vague enough that he believes the proposed Airstream would be allowed.

Sigwart noted that the Suddendorfs were asked to come to the Plan Commission with a building on the site as an alternative to the trailer.

Meeting the building codes for that type of structure, a small concession stand, may be more challenging, Nick Suddendorf said, adding that the trailer may serve as a “bridge” to a future building there.

“We thought this would look better on this lot than a concession stand that was a shed-like building,” he said.

Ald. Paul Neumyer said he is torn, saying he likes the idea of the Airstream but is concerned about the impact on existing businesses. If the matter came to a head Tuesday, he said, he would abstain from voting on it. 


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