Alderman Reiland makes request for Common Council to vote on Meijer once again

Pat Farrell of Waukesha speaks against the proposed Meijer development that would be built on the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and E. Sunset Drive.
Published on: 8/13/2013

Standing outside Waukesha City Hall after midnight last week, Brian Randall was disappointed but not discouraged.

The Meijer attorney believed, despite the Common Council not giving enough votes to move the Meijer project in the City of Waukesha forward on this night, there was hope.

And now there is — thanks to Alderman Andy Reiland.

One day after a land-use plan amendment to change the 31-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and East Sunset Drive from medium and medium-high residential to commercial and isolated natural resource area was denied, Reiland sent a letter to Mayor Jeff Scrima, City Administrator Ed Henschel and City Attorney Curt Meitz requesting the council be allowed to reconsider the vote.

Reiland was one of only five aldermen who could make a request to bring it back at its next meeting (7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall), because he was one of the descending votes against the land-use change.

So why would someone who was part of the winning side and who voted against changing the land to commercial want it back on the agenda?

Because Reiland is in favor of Meijer coming to Waukesha.

"From my perspective I feel the project is a good project for the community," said Reiland, who represents Waukesha's 13th District.

Changing his vote

Reiland, however, was strategic in his vote after hearing from more than 50 speakers voice their opinion on the proposed development during a public hearing before a standing-room-only Common Council meeting Aug. 8.

The Common Council voted twice on the land-use change. The first vote was 7-4 in favor of changing the land-use plan to commercial. However, despite more aldermen voting for a change, eight votes (a majority of the entire Common Council) were needed to amend the land-use plan. As a result, Alderman Steve Johnson's motion to deny a change passed.

Reiland said he and others weren't aware of that rule and because the motion was put in the negative, another vote was conducted.

The results didn't change, but this time Reiland switched from voting for a change in the land-use plan to against it, along with Johnson and Aldermen Eric and Cory Payne and Peter Bartels.

The alderman did so, he said, because of his belief in the project.

"I want to see it succeed and having four of the 15 aldermen not there on behalf of their constituents is huge," said Reiland, who added he isn't sure how those four aldermen — Terry Thieme, Kathleen Cummings, Aaron Perry and Christopher Hernandez — will vote.

Hearing from neighbors

If the Council approves reconsidering the land-use plan, it would then vote on Tuesday and a rezoning and planned use development (PUD) review vote could also take place.

And if the proposed project does move forward, Reiland said the many neighbors who have concerns about Meijer won't go unheard. He gained a greater perspective of these concerns after hearing from a group of neighbors during a gathering at a home on Larchmont Drive, behind the proposed site.

"I spent an hour with them listening to their concerns," said Reiland, who also spent time talking with Meijer officials.

Although Reiland emailed the residents the day before the Common Council meeting about his decision to support the Meijer development, he added "I feel strongly the neighbors must continue to have a voice if this project is approved, because their concerns are real and they will be addressed. They shouldn't be ignored."

Eric Payne feels the same way and showed this with his vote in keeping the area residential. He said he didn't want the property tied to one single development.

"I believe you need to listen to the people that live in the particular area," Payne said. "What matters right now is that many more people are opposed to the amendment change. I think we need to honor their wishes."

Voicing their concerns

The No. 1 concern of residents is that a commercial development should not impede on a residential area. Reasons include increased traffic and safety problems, light pollution and unnecessary noise, all of which some said would result in decreased property values. Others questioned the planning.

Neighbors have also taken issue with the fact that the 192,000-square-foot food, clothing and home merchandising store would be open 24 hours as well as the inclusion of a 2,500-square-foot gas station.

While Thieme wasn't at the meeting, the Common Council president, in a letter, requested removing the gas station from the plan.

"This could demonstrate to the residents of Waukesha how good of a neighbor (Meijer) can be," Thieme said.

Randall has said in the past that many of Meijer's stores are in residential areas and that they've worked well to be good neighbors. Meijer, which opened its first store in 1934, has more than 200 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

But along with the Waukesha location, Meijer is looking to expand to many Wisconsin cities including in nearby Sussex, Oak Creek, Wauwatosa, Grafton and Kenosha.

Residents and some aldermen also questioned whether adding another similar type store to an area that already has many grocery stores is needed and if it will put other stores out of business.

Planner gives support

But City of Waukesha Planner Jennifer Andrews said the city's Planning Department doesn't feel adding Meijer will oversaturate the area and explained that officials have updated plans for just one access point on the west side, a change from the original two proposed. Andrews also gave examples on how there are many areas within the city that have commercial near residential, including the Westbrook Shopping Center on Moreland Boulevard and the Shoppes at Fox River.

She added a traffic study revealed this area can handle the traffic and that there will be significant landscaping to act as a buffer for neighbors.

Ken Heine, a resident on Larchmont Drive, doesn't think it will be enough.

"I don't believe it's a viable site for it," he said. "You should find a site that's already zoned commercial."

Unlike the Plan Commission meeting a few weeks ago when there were only people in attendance opposed to the development, the Common Council meeting featured opinions on both sides.

In favor of Meijer

Alderman Adam Jankowski said voting against a land-use change "may tarnish (businesses) vision of us and I don't want that to happen. I want to be able to showcase Waukesha as an inviting location."

Those in favor of the development praised the planning and said the supercenter will help the tax base.

Many, including construction workers and contractors in attendance, said the addition of the more than 250 jobs that will come along with the site is a substantial benefit. 

Others said the area on Sunset Drive could use an economic boost and that competition is good for the area.

Lawyers differ

Randall agreed.

"Competition is good," he said, and added "we are much more than a grocery store."

But Joseph Cincotta, another attorney in attendance, countered Randall's take.

"Competition is fine, but (Meijer) is asking for a favor," Cincotta said. "They're asking for an exception and they're asking you to change the rules."

Dave Smart, who along with his mother, Carol, who own the site, were at the meeting and gave the project their support.

"This would be a positive thing for the commercial district," Dave Smart said.

Reiland agreed adding that even if the Council changes the land-use plan, rezoning and PUD on Tuesday, improvements can still be added to the overall plan.

“Meijer is a good company,” Reiland said. “I feel bad for the people who came out and thought the project was defeated and now it could potentially could come back. And I know some were disappointed with how I voted, but I feel this is an important project for the city.”