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Our View: Too much government equals no prosperity

Our views represent the institutional voice of The Lakeland Times.

They are researched and written independent of the newsroom.

At a recent county public hearing to consider a hotel project planned for Hwy. 51 where once stood the Bay View Inn and a laundromat, the project’s developer, Glenn Schiffmann, who was obviously exasperated, said what many in the room must have been thinking: There’s just too much government.

We agree with Mr. Schiffmann and we are just as exasperated.

As it turns out, the town of Minocqua recommended the county deny the hotel conditional use permit (CUP), for all sorts of reasons, but parking, access, and the scope of the project seemed to be the major stumbling blocks.

Fortunately, the county didn’t deny the permit but sent it back to the town for further review, though afterwards town chairman Mark Hartzheim seemed to indicate the project wouldn’t be revisited unless Mr. Schiffmann gives the town what it really wants — a six-unit hotel rather than a nine-unit hotel, and fewer berthing spaces.

The real issues are the density of the building, the parking, and the highway access, none of which is any of the town’s business.

Indeed, the town seems to be trying to take ownership of Mr. Schiffmann’s business, telling him to build six units rather than nine when Mr. Schiffmann clearly states that six units won’t work financially because of the value of the land. The whole thing would go bust.

The town doesn’t care, apparently, and this is exactly what happens when government attempts to appropriate private property through restrictive fiat and run a business. Just look at government deficits and that tells the story — if it wasn’t the government, it would be bankrupt.

The project also meets the parking requirements for a hotel, though some on both the town level and the county level believe the project isn’t actually a hotel project but a condominium project.

It’s true the units could be conveyed as condo units, but as Mr. Schiffmann’s representative at the county hearing, Jim Rein, stated, the form of ownership is irrelevant: The project will be permitted as a hotel and so it must be run as a hotel.

If that permit use is ever violated, the county could yank it, but, as it stands, the town has decided to convict Mr. Schiffmann in advance for an infraction he says he has no intention of committing.

Indeed, the project is no different from myriad hotel projects across the land that have one-, two-, and three-bedroom suites for travels and extended stay business clients, such as Staybridge Suites. They are permitted as hotels across the U.S.

Once again, the town board is trying to run Mr. Schiffmann’s business by demanding what kind of hotel he builds, which is clearly out of its jurisdiction. What’s more, it sends a terrible message to businesses that might want to locate here.

Some towns have speed traps; we apparently have a business trap, and, as with speed traps, the word quickly gets around.

Then there’s the density issue. Apparently, some in the town think fewer units would take care of the parking issue, while others don’t want to spoil the view of the lake from Hwy. 51. We wonder just how attractive the lake is when empty lots, rubble, and vacant buildings are in the viewing corridor.

In most places, evidence of run-down towns tend to overwhelm the view in the distance, and to cause the people to flee as fast as they can, speed traps notwithstanding.

As for parking, again, so long as the project meets the hotel parking requirements — and it does — this shouldn’t be an issue. If guests have an uncomfortable experience, they won’t come back, and that’s the best way to make sure Mr. Schiffmann does a nice job all the way around, because he loses money with any less than that. The town should let the market take care of things.

And, oh yes, there would be no trailers parked at the hotel; private off-site parking would be provided, as many hotels do.

We would like to observe that Mr. Schiffmann has developed many projects in the Lakeland area, and they have all been successful. So not only does the town have no business meddling in his business, he has a track record that should make them even more comfortable still.

The only real issue the town should have a say in is access off and on Hwy. 51. The town has expressed concerns that trailers pulling in and out of the hotel might have to back out onto the highway.

Mr. Rein and Mr. Schiffmann have assured the town that won’t happen. And they have reconfigured the original plans and run software traffic analysis to make sure they are right.

What’s more, the town should remember the DOT’s Hwy. 51 project several years ago, when the agency came in, eliminated access points for many businesses that had two of them — some were originally left with none.

The DOT didn’t seem to care that delivery trucks and trailers might end up on the highway.

But the town argued, correctly, that two access points were necessary to enable tractor-trailers to move in and out without backing up or turning around. The two-access system had worked for years, after all, and it still does in many places in town.

That’s exactly what this project would entail. So why treat this property differently from others that have two accesses, and from what the town asserted several years ago was just fine?

The bottom line is, the developers of this project have satisfied county requirements for parking, setbacks, and other permit criteria, as well as taken care of access issues, and the conditional use permit should be issued. The town and the county should get out of the way.

Right now, with a Northwoods economy that is struggling with population losses, with an inadequate labor pool that threatens the sustainability of our tourist economy, with a lack of economic diversification, right now is not the time to be standing in the way of development and prosperity.

Mr. Schiffmann is right when he says there is too much government. That’s true in any business climate: The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, or trying to run the private sector in its infinite wisdom, or lack thereof.

It’s especially true in today’s Northwoods economy. We need to be streamlining projects, not bogging them down.  We need to let Mr. Schiffmann, if he is still willing, and this project — and the jobs and the people it will bring — get underway.

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