A shift in vision?
Town Center change OK’d at developer’s request

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

March 12, 2015

MEQUON — The vision for the Mequon Town Center development took a detour Monday as the Planning Commission approved a request from the developer that city staff said abandons one of the Town Center’s primary goals.

After a discussion that stretched to nearly 11 p.m., members of the Planning Commission ultimately voted unanimously to allow two prospective tenants in the development at Mequon and Cedarburg roads – Forward Dental and Elements Massage – to only provide access to their businesses from the parking lot.

Kim Tollefson and Jac Zader, the city’s director and assistant director of community development, respectively, said that the rules for the Town Center development require that businesses be accessible from the sidewalks along the road as well as from the interior parking lot.

They said the long-term view for the Town Center is that the city center area will be a pedestrian-friendly magnet, particularly as the area just to the west along Mequon Road is developed.

“The priority is on the pedestrian,” Tollefson said.

Blair Williams, founder of WiRED Development, who is spearheading the five-building development with Mequon developer Cindy Shaffer, said he was asking for permission to provide the parking-lot-only access for several businesses.

“We run the risk of losing key tenants at significant cost to them and cost to us – and it would result in significant loss in value for the owner and for the city,” he said.

The total cost of the development, which includes retail space and upscale apartments, is estimated at $19.2 million. The city has made $1.8 million cash investment in the project and also has made modifications to streets and various landscaping improvements in the area worth about $1 million.

“The investment we’re making is many multiples of the total investment that is being made by the city of Mequon in this development,” said Williams, adding that the project should result in paying off the city’s tax incremental finance district in eight or nine years, well before the deadline that is approximately 20 years away.

Williams said he agreed with the vision of city planners to transform the area into a pedestrian-friendly environment that will have activity for 18 hours a day, from people getting coffee at Colectivo in the early morning to customers enjoying a bite to eat at Cafe Hollander late at night.

However, he said at this point it is just that – a vision.

“I think we can agree that the automobile consumer will be the overwhelming majority of all customers, at least for some time into the foreseeable future,” he said.

“To punish the development now – when it’s at its riskiest, when we’re the ones here together taking this risk, to impair its financial performance and to impair the likelihood that the consumer will come here in volume and make it part of their daily and weekly routine – would be to impair the viability and strength of not only the partnership, but of the asset itself,” Williams said.

The request regarding the doors was the most contentious of three items Williams brought to the Planning Commission. Members agreed with a request to permit some retail establishments to occupy spaces as small as 700 square feet with staff approval. Williams mentioned a dry cleaner was interested in locating there. Commissioners rejected a request to allow window treatments to cover glass, other than an exception for the massage studio.

Permission to allow a single entrance to two tenants also will not automatically apply to others. Any future businesses seeking the same accommodation must obtain a waiver.

At the beginning of his presentation, Williams also offered what he called “an olive branch,” saying he would withdraw his request for the large Cafe Hollander sign that was proposed on top of that building.

While several members of the Planning Commission initially voiced support for the original requirement of access from both the sidewalk and parking lot, all eventually sided with the developer.

“The worst thing I could do as a commissioner is to promote something that is going to make this project fail in any way, shape or form,” said John Stoker. “We’re vested in it as a city. We have to make this work and practicality has to come into play here.”

Gary Achterberg can be reached at .