Whitewater’s Planning Commission Meeting for 10.14.13

Whitewater’s Planning Commission met for its monthly meeting last night, with three principal topics (items 4, 5, and 6 on the agenda):

4. Hold a public hearing for consideration of a conditional use permit (for expansion to include wholesale alcohol operation) for CC Property Development LLC., Christ Christon to have a brewery and tap room at 111 W. Whitewater Street (Second Salem Brewing Company, LLC.).

5. Hold a public hearing for consideration of a change in the District Zoning Map for the parcel located at 319 W. James Street (Tax Parcel # /TR 00025) to rezone from R-3 (Multi-family Residence) Zoning District to a B-2 (Central Business) Zoning District for the development of a restaurant.

6. Hold a public hearing for consideration of a conditional use permit (tavern and other places selling alcohol by the drink) for Tyler Sailsbery to serve beer and liquor at 319 W. James Street (for a “Class B” Beer and Liquor License) for a new restaurant, tavern and distillery (Casual Joes).

A few quick remarks follow.

Second Salem.  It’s a clever name about our city’s reputation from the past, and, I think, a very good idea for our present.  Second Salem would be a nano-brewery (production amounts of a barrel, that is, a bit over thirty-one gallons). 

The location is excellent, with ample parking and easily accessible for those coming from either the east or west beyond Whitewater on Main Street.  (The property is now the Whitewater Street Restaurant.) 

An establishment like this is different from a tavern, and would be a fine additional to an emerging restaurant culture in Whitewater. 

A Mixed-Bag Planning Commission.  There’s a wide range of opinion on this Planning Commission, but sadly there also seems a wide range of understanding, too.  These commissioners run the range from very savvy to not-as-much.  The gaps aren’t those of left and right, or even market as against regulatory preferences. They’re more fundamental.

There’s something both strange and, candidly, obtuse about bemoaning the loss of a breakfast restaurant for a nano-brewery when it’s clear consumer demand will favor the latter. 

When a commissioner insists the former would be preferable for patrons, but the day-in, day-out traffic shows the opposite, it only shows a commissioner’s lack of feel for the town as it is.  

Council would do well, when picking people for the Planning Commission, to pick those – regardless of partisan ideology – with a feel for consumer sentiment, patronage, and trends. 

Casual Joe’s application for a conditional use permit and a zoning change to B-2 for 319 W. James Street.  The Planning Commission chose to continue their consideration of proprietor Tyler Sailsbery’s application until the next meeting of the commission, at which there will be a public hearing about the proposal for a restaurant, tavern, and distillery. 

There’s an opportunity for a compromise here, between residents and proprietor, if there’s some willingness to work on a deal.   

No doubt all would concede that communication of the proposal to residents nearby could have been better.  Whether those residents will consider a reasonable deal, there’s no way to know. 

There is, however, a practical problem with this discussion: when a commissioner tells Common Council last week that he wishes there were more licenses for projects like this, and then begins his discussion at Planning last night with his reservations, only to find those reservations might persuade others on Planning to scuttle the deal, something he might not want, he’s left with a question: which way forward? 

Now, I know that one might reconcile these different positions, but it’s not a debating society: whipsawing from one view to another might get a good result, but it’s dicey and hardly a reliable, long-term strategy. 

Sooner or later one may find that the music stops with no chair nearby.   

That’s why, in the end, I think clearly-stated ideological views are a better approach: one knows where one’s representatives stand, and there’s still room for an applicant to persuade those of a different view to come around to one’s side (at least on a particular issue). 

The best outcome would be a compromise, one that allows the proposal to go forward in a way that’s satisfactory to both applicant and residents.

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