March 18, 2010
Board shows support for West Racine grocery store, gas station, but city still has questions
Architect Ryan Rudie, of Butterfield, Rudie and Seitz, stands before the Access Corridor Review Board Thursday to discuss a proposed grocery store, restaurant and gas station in West Racine. Rudie designed the $4.2 million project proposed by Tom Tousis.
Pieces may be falling into place for a proposed grocery store, restaurant and gas station in West Racine.
The $4.2 million project took a small step toward City Council approval Thursday night when the Access Corridor Review Board took up the project. The board voted unanimously to defer the project to a special meeting sometime before the March 31 Plan Commission meeting.
(Photo-Right: Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tom Tousis's West Racine development, talks with city planner Matt Sadowski following Thursday's Access Corridor Review Board meeting.)
City Planner Matt Sadowski ran through a list of concerns the Planning Department had with the projects ranging from more windows and the placement of doors, to the location of fuel tanks near utility easements and proposed signage. Also, the state may have to review the entrance and exit off of Washington Avenue, Sadowski told the board.
But Sadowski also listed positives. Most materials selected for the 14,000-square-foot building fit with the West Racine design guidelines and the copper, historic-style canopy over the gas pumps fits the need for an architecturally significant design, he said.
Discussion among the board focused more on process than whether the proposed design was a good fit for West Racine. After a flurry of procedural moves, the committee settled on holding another meeting and directing staff to work with Tousis to address their concerns.
Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, said the city's concerns could be addressed with "minor changes" settled in a half-hour meeting.
"Tom feels good about tonight," Williams said.
(Photo-Right: Frank Smith and Alderman Jim Spangenberg, both members of the Access Corridor Review Board, talk after Thursday's meeting.)
Despite the unanimous vote, it's still unclear where the majority of the board sits on the proposal. If Tousis can work out a deal with city planning, it appears he'll have the support of aldermen Mike Shields, Jim Kaplan and David Maack. But it's clear Alderman Jim Spangenberg has not softened his opposition to the project, which he describes as a gas station in the middle of a neighborhood.
Spangenberg also raised questions about additional traffic the development will bring to the corner and the value of the new construction, which he suggested may not be valuable enough to pay off the loans the city took out to clear the site for redevelopment.
"If we wanted a gas station we could have had it five years ago," Spangenberg said.
Shields (left with Kaplan) took the lead on the board's discussion, immediately moving to approve the project's design. Kaplan seconded the motion, and both aldermen came out firmly in support of the proposal with changes recommended by city development.
Maack attempted to serve as the voice of clarity in a confusing discussion over what, exactly, the board could approve or defer. After settling procedural disputes, he seemed to give tentative support to the proposal with the changes recommended by city planning.
Kaplan is clearly in favor. He held up a picture of the empty gravel lot that's now on the proposed site at the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard and said Tousis' project would be a much better gateway to West Racine.
"It's a lot more attractive than an empty lot with a pine tree and a bus stop," Kaplan said.
He added: "This is a wonderful business for Racine. If West Racine doesn't want it, you can come to Douglas Avenue and the Fourth District any time you want."
As a side note, there's a peculiar dispute going on over the estimated value of Tousis' project. The JT, like us, reported Monday that the scaled-down project - it's smaller because of easements on the property - was valued at $4.2 million, which is about $1 million less than the original proposal.
JT reporter Michael Burke then corrected their story the next day saying the new project costs $2.8 million, and attributed the number to Williams. The problem is Williams denies ever saying the project was worth $2.8 million, and the JT now has a story on its site correcting the correction and returning the project's total value to $4.2 million.
Meanwhile, the JT "corrected" its original story by changing the project's estimated cost to $2.8 million, but has yet to change the number back to what it's now reporting is the correct number.