A stormwater pipe is forcing a Racine developer to redraw plans for a grocery store and restaurant in West Racine.
Developer Tom Tousis was surprised to learn earlier this month an 84-inch stormwater pipe bisects the 1.5-acre lot at West Boulevard and Washington Avenue. Tousis can't build over the pipe and now needs to shrink the size of his proposed building by as much as 40 percent.
The pipe is the third utility easement any developer would have to address on the corner lot. A powerline and a water pipe also run through the property, carving up the seemingly vacant lot into four sections available for construction.
Tousis and the city disagree over whether the stormwater pipe was included in city records.
Brian O'Connell, director of city development for Racine, said the stormwater pipe was included in materials when the city first began searching for a developer for the site. It's also included in the city's GIS system, which is available for free online.
"They should have known about it," O'Connell said about Tousis' development team.
But Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, showed a city survey of the site completed in 2006 that does not include the stormwater pipe. He said the original plans, which were shown to city officials when Tousis applied for an option to buy the land, were based on the 2006 survey.
"If the city knew about the pipe, why didn't they tell us about it?" Williams asked, noting the plan was approved by the city's Redevelopment Authority and City Council with no mention that the proposal would not fit on the site. O'Connell serves as staff to the RDA.
Williams added the city's own GIS website includes a warning on the front page that the online maps should not be used as official documents. Instead, Tousis used a city-commissioned, formal survey of the site, which left off the pipe, Williams said.
"Every developer knows you go off the survey," Williams said.
O'Connell said the stormwater pipe ran down an alley behind buildings the city knocked down to create the vacant lot. Utilities underneath alleys were not included on the survey map, he said.
O'Connell added Tousis made a "naive assumption" that there was stormwater pipe running underneath the former alley. He said the bigger problem is Tousis and his team have not worked with city officials on the project. As a result, O'Connell said, there are surprises.
Williams said the new pipe - discovered earlier this month - will force reductions in the size of the grocery store, restaurant and gas station. The new building may still be 10,000 square-feet, but it's significantly smaller than what Tousis intended to build.
Developer Ray Leffler, who has worked with Tousis on the project, said building over the stormwater pipe would be risky because the city may need to access the pipe for repairs. If that happened, crews would have to rip up the store to reach the pipe, he said.
"It wouldn't generally be an acceptable practice to build over that pipe," said Leffler, who owns Newport Realty in Racine.
But Leffler said Tousis can work around the stormwater pipe and still build an acceptable project. "It would have been nice if there was a pipe running right through the middle of a building that someone would have said something," Leffler said.
He added "the ball was dropped a bit," but instead of placing blame, focus should now be on redrawing the plans to fit the utilities on the site.
"The real question is how do you fix it and move on?" Leffler said.
Tousis and real estate agent, Karen Sorenson, wrote O'Connell a letter on Jan. 13 asking for an extension on the submission of their conditional-use permit for city approval. "The recent information obtained has changed the scope of our project drastically," the wrote to O'Connell.
Williams said Tousis is now waiting for the city to provide a reliable survey of the site before redrawing plans. "We don't want any more surprises," he said.