Here's an update on our ongoing fight with the Town of Minocqua and Oneida County to simply build an outdoor space for our customers to drink beer, similar to the ~11 other outdoor spaces that have been granted to business in Minocqua over the last 2-3 years.
After the County Zoning Committee revoked our permit to do business based on telling us it was "illegal" to serve beer outdoors on our concrete stoop (we have a license to serve beer 'on-premise,' and most every other bar/cafe is allowed to serve alcohol outdoors) and having an unenclosed dumpster (almost NO other businesses in the entire county have enclosed dumpsters), the county zoning committee was INUNDATED with negative publicity and thousands of emails from the public telling them to basically "stop being stubborn jerks and leaving politics out of zoning."
In an effort to stop the bleeding, County Board Chairman Scott Holewinski offered to work out a "compromise" with us. We took him up on it, and news outlets around the state reported about the "compromise," and most everyone paying attention breathed a sigh of relief because this ridiculously one-sided and politicized zoning issue was deeply embarrassing for this tourist area.
Unfortunately, that "compromise" wasn't real. It was merely an effort to deflect the statewide spotlight off of this committee back to the Town of Minocqua, which has been the county's shortcoming all along. This committee inexplicably loses its spine any time it has to deal with the Town of Minocqua on zoning issues that are solely within the county's jurisdiction (not the Town's).
The first inkling we had that this compromise wasn't real was that they lied to us again on the timing of this deal. We submitted our "compromise" drawings in mid August and were told we'd have a decision before the end of August, so that we could FINALLY start selling beer outdoors without harassment.
With that negotiated settlement in place, we decided to appease the county board and pulled our tables in from the concrete stoop, cramping our customers and hurting our sales during the last half of August, the 2nd busiest month of the tourism season. We did this because we TRUSTED that the county would vote on this issue within weeks. Well, we have been bumped off of two subsequent planning/zoning agendas, were told we'd be on the September 20 agenda, but recently found out we're not on that agenda either.
We were also told that any resolution would have to ALSO be voted on by the Town of Minocqua, which as we've explained countless times, has NO JURISDICTION OVER PARKING OR ZONING.
The county zoning committee, like it has done for the last 3 years, has yet again obstructed our ability to make money by delaying zoning votes during the most crucial summer months. And because we yet again agreed to trust them to come up with a "compromise," we've lost 1.5 months of outdoor sales at $2K-$3k PER DAY, approximately $113K.
For that reason, we've decided to put our tables BACK ONTO THE CONCRETE STOOP until the weather gets cold, because it is only "illegal" for us to do so because these guys have purposefully delayed making it "legal" for us to serve alcohol outdoors, like they have for ALMOST EVERY OTHER BAR/CAFE IN TOWN.
Also, through conversations with the county zoning staff and lawyer, we have learned that the zoning committee refuses to be lenient on requiring us to build 6 parking spots on our property. They verbally gave us hints at where they wanted those spots to go, because they probably didn't want any evidence to be used against them in future lawsuits. But their verbal directions were ludicrous.
If you take a look at the 2 options that were floated for us to put 6 parking spots our our property, you'll see that they are both ridiculous.
In both options, there is no way for us to squeeze in a disabled parking spot. We sell #progressivebeer for crying out loud, are big old Democrats, and are suing to get rid of the private school voucher program in part because private schools are able to take pubic tax dollars and reject kids with disabilities.
Forcing us to forego parking for the disabled is NOT A COMPROMISE, it's UNCONSCIONABLE.
2nd, in one of the 6 parking spot options forced upon us by the county, we had to squeeze 4 parking spaces along the disputed area we call the "pork chop" (where all required parking should go but the Town won't allow). That is a LAUGHABLE option because the only way you could situate 4 cars that way is if they were tiny little clown cars. That option was so dumb we had to force our architect to draw it up because he felt like he would be committing architectural malpractice by even putting pen to paper.
3rd, they suggested we put 2 spots in the southern side of our beer garden. Well those two spots would have to be built directly in front of the entrance off of HWY 51. It's simply NOT SAFE to force cars to back up into cars trying to come in off the highway, and since they've given over 200 parking exemptions to any bar/restaurant who wants them to build outdoor spaces over the last 2-3 years, it's simply offensive to ask us shrink our beer garden to accommodate 2 unsafe spots.
Although we've been told that unless we provide a "compromise" with 6 parking spots, our plan would get voted down, we submitted a plan with 4 parking spots-- 1 spot for disabled parking, and the other 3 along the "pork chop." This is still a dumb parking design, because it makes WAY MORE SENSE to put parking within the disputed "Pork Chop," but we offered it in the spirit of compromise so these county board members could save a little face and tell their Republican voters they didn't give away the farm.
After they delayed the vote and told us they wouldn't back down from 6 parking spots, we decided last week to sue the County as well. Next week, we will add Oneida County to our original lawsuit against the Town of Minocqua that we filed two weeks ago.
If these guys aren't willing to find their spines to vote against the town and assume responsibility for their own county zoning jurisdiction, then they need to be held accountable in court.
We sent our 4-parking space option weeks ago, but just yesterday we also submitted a "Parking Study" for the Town of Minocqua.
Over this whole 3 year parking fight, the town nor the county has ever provided a study that shows they actually need the parking they've required us to build. They've just said "there's a need for more parking," without ever proving it.
Well, since we KNOW there are two public parking lots within a few minutes walk of our building, we figured we'd do our own study.]
It turns out that in our study, we found that there are approximately 4.17 parking spaces per 1000 square feet of mixed use retail/restaurant activity.
The benchmark for developers looking to build mixed use outdoor shopping centers is 4 parking spaces per 1000 square feet.
You know what that means?
The Town of Minocqua DOES NOT NEED MORE PARKING, and thus their requirement that we add parking to our property is not only ILLEGAL (they don't have the jurisdiction), but also entirely UNNECESSARY.
We refuse to let a bunch of amateurs hurt our business any longer. Through a toxic mix of political retaliation, a lack of courage to do the right thing, and simple thick-headedness, this farce has gone on long enough.
We have no doubt a federal judge will agree with us.
We'll continue to stay open and serve beer from our stoop throughout September, 11-7pm (closed only on Tuesdays in September). After that, we plan to offer more limited hours throughout the winter.