The Oneida County Zoning Committee refused to approve on Thursday, Feb. 6, a conditional use permit (CUP) application for a hotel development between Hwy. 51 and Lakeview Drive in Minocqua, but the committee didn’t deny it, either, sending it back to the town for further review.
How productive that review will be remains to be seen as the project developers say the town has become intransigent over the scope of the project. Owner Glenn Schiffmann, the president of GPS Inc., and the project’s agent, James Rein, have proposed a nine-unit hotel, but say the town wants just six units, which Rein says won’t work on the high-value land.
On Tuesday, Feb. 4, the Minocqua Town Board had called on the zoning committee to deny the permit, officially citing parking and other concerns, but the county has the actual decision-making authority over CUP applications.
The project would be on two parcels along Lakeview Drive and Hwy. 51, one where a laundromat was previously and one where the previous Bay View Inn was. It would consist of a lower level walkout with two floors above it, or three stories overall.
There would be six three-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units, and one one-bedroom unit. Each of the bedrooms would have separate bathrooms, and a laundry would be located on the ground floor.
The project owner, Bayview Motel LLC, says a management company would be hired to run the operation, which would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The plan is for two employees to staff the hotel.Town, zoning staff concerns
In a letter to the zoning committee, town board chairman Mark Hartzheim outlined what he said were multiple reasons for the town’s recommendation, though at the public hearing Thursday both Schiffmann and Rein said they had addressed those concerns.
Among other things, in his letter, which zoning director Karl Jennrich read aloud at the hearing, Hartzheim said access posed a safety concern.
“Southbound vehicles with trailers cannot make the right turn into the property and navigate through the parking lot,” Hartzheim wrote to the county, as read by Jennrich. “This will force vehicles to back out onto Hwy. 51. If a northbound vehicle enters the south access, it will not be able to navigate through the parking lot. It will be forced to back out onto Hwy. 51. There is no turnaround or cul-de-sac at the end of Lakeview Drive. Vehicles with trailers won’t be able to navigate and will be forced to back up all the way down Lakeview Drive.”
At the hearing, Rein said access concerns had been addressed. For one thing, the original plan showed a covered entrance so people could park and get inside without getting wet in the rain, but the final plan removed the covered entrance to improve traffic flow.
Software analysis of the traffic flow in and out of the property also showed it would work even for large SUVs and trailers, Rein said.
Both the town and the county had parking concerns. For one thing, Hartzheim wrote, a parking lot is not permitted within 75 feet of the ordinary high-water mark, and town policy does not permit private parking to be designated within a road right of way.
Jennrich, too, said he could not authorize parking within a right-of-way. The hotel plan calls for use of existing parking spaces on Lakeview Drive, but Jennrich said he had not heard back from the town whether those spaces actually encroach into the road’s right-of-way. However, those spaces are already existing and were used by the old Bay View Inn and laundromat since the 1980s.
There was a question about how much parking is needed.
That, in turn, hinges on whether the project is actually a hotel or whether it is really a residence/multiple family dwelling. Hotels require 1.1 parking spaces per unit, plus staff parking; multiple family residential dwellings require two parking spaces per unit plus one additional undesignated space for common use per unit.
The plan submitted by Rein and Schiffmann proposes 17 parking spaces, including the parking spaces on Lakeview. Under the hotel requirements, 10 spaces would be needed plus three for staff, or 13 total.
But the town wants more.
“Despite how the property is intended to be licensed, the units are designed like residential living units rather than hotel rooms and, as such, a more appropriate minimum parking space requirement is justified,” Hartzheim wrote.
Jennrich said zoning staff, too, had concerns that proposed parking was insufficient, and Jennrich said he, too, viewed the project as residential.
“It’s a multi-family development,” Jennrich said. “You can call it a motel or hotel, but you have bigger types of units. They can be used for weekends, they can be used for extended stays, and I still have not received a definitive answer if these can be conveyed separately, or sold separately.”
In similar projects in Eagle River, Jennrich said, such units have been conveyed separately under the condominium form of ownership.
Whatever the form of ownership, Rein countered, the establishment will always be run as a hotel because that is the way the project will be permitted.
“No matter what, the use will be a hotel,” he said. “The difference is, in a multi-family residential dwelling, you live in it full-time. So if you have a three bedroom townhouse, you live in that house year-round. If you have a hotel that you have three bedrooms in it, you’re not living there. You come up for a week, or two weeks, or a weekend.”
A transient style of use changes the parking use, Rein asserted. Not only that, Rein said, the project is no different from hotels such as Staybridge Suites, which brands itself as an all-suite, residential-style brand of hotel designed both for business travelers and extended-stay guests and has more than 200 hotels in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and South America.
“They do one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom units all over the country,” he said. “They are still hotels. You can go to Vero Beach where they have a new one and stay for the week. The kids have a room and the parents have a room. It’s a hotel.”
The parking needs change because in the transient scenarios, it’s not often that two cars will pull up to use one unit, Rein said.
“I’m not saying it can’t happen, but the majority of the time you are going to have one car per unit,” he said.
Rein and Schiffmann said they had designed as much parking as the physical property would allow. Schiffmann also said there would be no trailer parking on the property. Those, he said, would go to the marina down the street, which has plenty of parking.Town wants smaller project
Supervisor Billy Fried, who also sits on the Minocqua Town Board, said the town was enthused about having such a project, but was concerned the project was being pushed along on too fast a track.
“A lot of questions and concerns came up where we weren’t given answers, but we’re told we need to move this forward,” Fried said. “The town’s concerns should not be taken as the town trying to resist this development in the town, because we welcome it, but it is a tight space and there are a lot of questions and it is being moved very quickly.”
Fried said there was no desire by the developers to continue to talk with the town when it came before the town board; rather, he said, the impression was that the developers wanted the town to approve the CUP application or deny it as proposed and send it on to the county for public hearing.
But, while Fried said the town wanted to continue to talk, Rein said the issue was the town wanted the project reduced to six rather than nine units.
Rein said the town had copies of stormwater runoff plans since day one — that was one of the areas the town said information was needed — though those stormwater flow plans had changed because parking was reconfigured since the original proposal to try and accommodate parking concerns.
And, again, Rein said, the access issue — getting vehicles in and out — had also been addressed.
“We ran it through our traffic analysis software to show how trailers and vehicles can pull through it,” he said.
The plans submitted used a 27-foot trailer with a suburban length vehicle pulling it, and the analysis showed the trailer and vehicle could get through it. That had been shown to the town board, Rein said.
“It just seems like every time we went to a meeting, they had more questions, so we answered those questions,” he said. “I know that’s the process, but I don’t want people to think that we are just trying to ram this through, because we have tried to answer every question we possibly could.”
Rein also said the town’s attorney had been asked a month-and-a-half ago to review the right-of-way issue and has yet to do so.
“What we’re presenting today is a plan that works,” he said. “The parking, the drive through with trailers, the vehicle traffic flow, the stormwater — it works. The building fits. It complies with county requirements for parking. It complies with the county requirements for setbacks.”
Really what it came down to at the town level, Rein said, the town wants to make the project six units.
“The problem with the six units is, the property values are too high to put six units in it,” he said. “(The values of these properties) are to the point where you can’t put four or six units. To make it work from a development standpoint, it has to be nine units.”
And that’s why they asked the town to move it forward, Rein said.
“Because if they can’t get off the fact that it wouldn’t be six units, it’s not worth going back to meetings every week to say here’s nine units and they go, ‘we want six units,’” he said.
The reality is, Schiffmann said, correspondence with the county about the project started last fall, and the issue really is about government getting in the way of a desirable project.
“A half year we have been waiting on government,” he said. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but when I started in business, I walked into the zoning office and I walked out with a permit. This part of government is really frustrating.”
Schiffmann said he had built this type of building multiple times.
“Every one of them was successful,” he said. “I can hardly take this anymore, especially the town of Minocqua, not the county. That’s why I pushed it forward. If they don’t want it because there are too many units, don’t approve it.”
Schiffmann said he needs his workers working during road bans.
“It’s been five months we’ve been working on this and we don’t have a green light,” he said. “And yet the county and town say, ‘Oh there’s angst with this.’ Come on. Enough is enough.”
There’s too much government, Schiffmann said.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I don’t need your help to make sure I don’t trip and hurt myself. No offense to this committee, but this conditional use application is almost invasive. In Vilas County it’s just one page. Government has gotten out of control.”
The bottom line is, Schiffmann said, the project is a desirable one for the town.
“What we are proposing is something that makes sense for the community,” he said. “If the community doesn’t want it because it doesn’t meet parking or it doesn’t have trailer parking, don’t approve it. It’s as simple as that.”
Friday, Hartzheim told The Lakeland Times the matter may be taken up again by the town board and not the plan commission.
However, he couldn’t be totally certain.
“According to Karl Jennrich, a lot of the information the county zoning committee got for the public hearing was either the evening before or the day of,” Hartzheim said. “So, it puts the county staff in a real tough spot to review, research and analyze everything when you get it basically on the same day.”
As he has stated previously, conceptually, the plan commission and the town board have no problem with the basic building plans.
“The density and insufficient parking are the issues,” Hartzheim said. “He (Schiffmann) has stated numerous times he’s not willing to reduce the number of dwellings below nine and he’s not willing to build it if the berthing spaces are fewer than six.”
Hartzheim said the county’s position is the number of berthing spaces is a total of four.
“It seems like this thing has hit the wall and I don’t know why we would continue to look at it unless there’s significant changes to how it’s presented,” he said. Richard Moore is the author of the forthcoming “Storyfinding: From the Journey to the Story” and can be reached at richardmoorebooks.com.