Walgreens backs out of Town of Waukesha

Published on: 3/25/2014

Town of Waukesha — After years of being in the works, including a 2013 approval, the Walgreens/Aldi project on the southwest corner of Sunset Drive and Highway X in the Town of Waukesha is no more.

"It's dead," said Town Chairman John Marek. "It's an incredible loss for the town. It's a very large loss to the residents that are immediately in that area. We had a low-impact, high-quality development in Walgreens/Aldi. It couldn't get any better. It was an incredible location."

Marek said he has known that Walgreens/Aldi was backing out "for quite some time." And he blames one person for the developer pulling out shortly after beginning construction last fall and for the town losing $5 million in tax base.

"They had it with the harassment from Joe Banske," Marek said. "So they pulled out. The constant changing of hours and Joe's nonsense of saying building a Walgreens would attract crime. They had it with Joe's constant rhetoric."

The disagreement over hours of operation was a point of contention last year in the town. In July, the Town Board approved Walgreens to be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a 24-hour drive-through pharmacy. The approval was against the Plan Commission's recommendation of a 24-hour store and against Walgreens' request in its plan of operation application of 24 hours unless the manager adjusted.

The application, however, noted the minimum hours of operation would be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and weekends. Mark Lake of MRED-Cummings, who owned the parcel, agreed to those hours. However, the item returned to the Town Board on Aug. 22 for reconsideration, and Lake wanted a 24-hour operation. Marek then sought to amend the board's previous decision, but the measure did not meet with support from the majority of the board. Marek then asked for a Title 4 review done to overturn the town's decision, but multiple attorneys said this type of review wasn't applicable.

Marek dishing blame was nothing new to Banske, who previously surveyed residents in the area to get their thoughts on the development.

"His comments are all the same," Banske said. "He's trying to perpetuate an image of near-constant harassment. What he's trying to do is smear me."

Marek said a developer proposing a bar/grill has shown interest in the site. Banske said he didn't know about Walgreens backing out until a resident who had knowledge of the situation called him. Moreover, Banske was skeptical that Marek already has interested parties.

Contrary to Marek's comments, Banske said he feels the foreclosure of the Fox Run Shopping Center and the proposed Meijer development on Sunset Drive has "changed the landscape" for that Walgreens site.

Banske added that the developer isn't obligated to tell the Town Board that it's not building anymore. And while the town won't get the revenue from the project, Banske is proud of the effort he put into the project.

"We worked with (the developers), and I worked with the neighbors to mitigate the impact it was going to have on them," Banske said. "We exerted a lot of energy into this, but sometimes that's what developers end up doing. They look at the project again to see if it still makes sense."

The supervisor said small-retail developments with more suitable hours for the neighbors could be considered in the future.

The abandonment of the project is somewhat stunning, given the lengthy process the development went through, which borders a 50-home subdivision. It started in 2009 when the Plan Commission and Town Board approved changing the town's comprehensive land-use plan on that corner from low-density residential to a mixed use. Two of the board members were then later recalled.

With a new Town Board in place, it denied a zoning change in early 2012, which would have made way for the new stores. Homeowners who were selling the property to MRED-Cummings petitioned for annexation into the city. But the city denied the request because it wasn't going to change the area from residential. The development returned to the Town of Waukesha last summer, and the Town Board approved the stores.

"With a matter of developing the property," Marek said, "we're back at square 1."