The proposal is supported by surrounding residents, fits the long-range business plan for the neighborhood and appears to have the support of the mayor and several City Council members. It now just needs city approval to allow the developer, who has a solid track record on construction projects, to proceed.
Seems like a no-brainer for a city that's only landed a handful of new commercial construction projects in the past year. But, no.
The project described above is Tom Tousis's proposal to build a grocery store, restaurant and gas station at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard in West Racine. The $5 million project is now before the city's Redevelopment Authority, which is negotiating an option with Tousis to buy the land. (The RDA, which was created by the city, is the owner of the property.)
The problem for Tousis is Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who represents a portion of West Racine. Spangenberg has made no secret about his opposition to Tousis's project, largely because it includes a gas station. Spangenberg is the lone City Council member on the RDA and has an influential voice in all West Racine discussions.
The key issue is whether the grocery store and sit-down restaurant in Tousis's proposal make the gas station acceptable. Tousis argues the gas station is an important component of the plan because it will draw people to the site (and to West Racine).
But opponents, many turned off by Tousis's aggressive approach, are focused on the gas station. Dick Hinsman, who owns a business next to the proposed site, offers a glimpse of this one-track mind in a letter to the editor in today's JT. Hinsman wrote:
Lost in this email is that Tousis is proposing a grocery store and restaurant, as well as a gas station. But Tousis's proposal is stuck with entrenched beliefs and hurt feelings.
Also, recently, the City of Racine had put together a committee of local business people and people from the neighborhood. The committee was referred to as a Neighborhood Work Group. This committee came up with some recommendations as to what should be built on the site. The findings were that a business such as a gas station and a tattoo parlor were unacceptable/undesirable uses. Preferred uses include a full service grocery, and a table service restaurant.
Let's keep West Racine as a special area. A gas station will not be a destination business, nor will it be a business that will compliment West Racine.
It's now going around that Tousis' team didn't fill out the proper paperwork when submitting its plans to the RDA. Tousis disagrees, but let's assume it's true. If the fate of a $5 million development - that's $1.5 million more than the much celebrated $3.5 million "Treasures" warehouse proposed for the Southside industrial park - hinged on paperwork, you'd think someone would go out of their way to help the developer get things straightened out.
Maybe that's happening here. But the RDA is going on its third month of discussing Tousis's request for an option, and this is far from the last step for the project. It still needs to pass the Plan Commission, Access Corridor Review (which Spangenberg sits on) and needs a liquor license from the Public Safety and Licensing Committee, plus full City Council approval.
If every step takes three meetings, it could take Tousis another year to get a shovel in the ground. It raises questions of whether Racine is developer friendly, and what could be done to streamline the approval process for new construction.