Backwoods Pub makes its final stand
Mequon aldermen take up mayor’s veto

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic

Dec. 7, 2017

MEQUON — More than a year of deliberations and drama will come to a head Tuesday over whether the city will sell the Logemann Center property to a former alderman who wants to build a restaurant there.

The Mequon Common Council’s 5-3 vote Nov. 14 to authorize a contract to sell the site to John Leszcynski was vetoed the next day by Mayor Dan Abendroth. The issue will come up – presumably for the last time – Tuesday as aldermen see if they can garner the necessary six votes to override the veto.

Leszcynski, who served one three-year term on the Common Council, wants to build the Backwoods Pub & Grill with a deck overlooking Rennicke Field. He said he hopes aldermen will reverse the veto and give the city’s Planning Commission an opportunity to weigh in on the biggest sticking point – parking.

“The community development director and the mayor have been opposed to the restaurant,” Leszcynski told the News Graphic. “The parking study has proven to be heavily biased – so much so that the council couldn’t rely on the results. I think the council would at least want the Planning Commission to take a swing at this thing and give their expertise on whether there is enough parking.”

Abendroth said this week he vetoed the sale because the land should remain public.

“I don’t think the city should sell land in the civic campus to a private entity,” he said. “That land should remain in the public realm. We don’t know what the future holds for the civic campus and we should keep the land for that.”

Leszcynski and other supporters of the development argue that the city already has sold land it owned – both for the first phase of the Town Center and Spur 16, a retail and residential development planned for the former Public Works site just west of the railroad tracks along Mequon Road.

“That was different,” Abendroth countered. “That was an underutilized piece of property and it created over $30 million worth of development value that we created in order to get the Town Center concept moving. A $1.5 million restaurant wouldn’t add anything to it – and there’s not enough parking.”

Since the contract was approved 5-3, one more alderman would have to support the restaurant to reach the six votes needed to override the veto. The News Graphic reached out to all eight aldermen this week and asked how they will vote. Four responded; four did not. While some said they would not disclose how they would vote, nobody said their position has changed.

“For me, it’s always been about the parking,” said Andrew Nerbun, who was one of the three aldermen who opposed the sale. “We’re in the situation now with Town Center 1 due to parking. Demand was understated by the developer. We went with it and we have what we have now. The risk of making another similar mistake in the same area has, thus far, outweighed the potential benefit.”

Nerbun added that “you’ll have to wait for next week” to see how he will vote on overriding the veto.

Kathleen Schneider, who also opposed the sale, said she will not be changing her vote.

“The Logemann property is central to the civic campus, park and Town Center businesses,” she said. “A discussion about whether the city should sell this property – as well as issues such as lack of parking – should have occurred in advance of the request for proposals.

“There is not enough parking to accommodate a restaurant of this size on this property, per two parking studies, and if built would negatively impact surrounding businesses and the American Legion.”

Glenn Bushee and John Hawkins, who supported the sale, said they do not intend to change how they voted.

“I will continue to support the restaurant,” Hawkins said. “The restaurant would be a quality addition to the city and will add revenue. There are simple solutions to the parking issue, but attempts to discuss them were routinely shut down.

“The statement from the consultant that the only solution was to build a massive structure on the baseball diamond was outrageous,” he added. “It reminded me of school boards that claim that ‘unless the multi-million-dollar referendum is passed, we will be forced to cancel football and music.’ If the veto is successful, it will be a shame.”

Aldermen Rob Strzelczyk, Dale Mayr, John Wirth and Mark Gierl did not reply.

Vetoes are rare in Mequon. It’s been 13 years since the last one. Mayor Christine Nuernberg vetoed a memo of understanding that related to installing speed bumps in the Stonefield subdivision in 2004. She was overridden on a 6-1 vote, according to City Clerk Caroline Fochs.

While Abendroth’s veto will be on Tuesday’s Common Council agenda, a member must make a motion to override it. If that doesn’t occur, that is the end of the process.

The mayor said the public will have an opportunity to speak. Members of the nearby American Legion post, who have repeatedly voiced concern about the lack of parking in the area, are expected to attend. Leszcynski said Tuesday he is not certain if he will ask some of his supporters to speak.

Leszcynski added this is his final stand. He remains enthusiastic about building a restaurant on the Logemann site, but said he likely won’t pursue an alternate location.

“If the mayor kills this deal, I don’t think any sane person would go through this process again,” he said.

Meeting set for Tuesday

If you go: The Mequon Common Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 11333 N. Cedarburg Road. It will take up Mayor Dan Abendroth’s veto in November of a contract to sell the Logemann Center to a developer who wants to build a restaurant.

How they voted: In November, the Mequon Common Council voted 5-3 to approve the sale. Voting yes were Glenn Bushee, Mark Gierl, John Hawkins, Dale Mayr and John Wirth. Voting no were Andrew Nerbun, Kathleen Schneider and Rob Strzelczyk.

If the mayor’s veto stands what are the next steps?
By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic

MEQUON — If Mayor Dan Abendroth prevails and his veto stands, what’s next for the Logemann property?

The Lokre Companies, the Plover-based developer that now owns Mequon Town Center 1, presented a competing offer to purchase the property in October. Its “purchase price” involves spending $200,000 to remove the Logemann building and add additional parking with the aim of relieving congestion in its parking lot.

Other than a very brief discussion in October, aldermen voted unanimously to table the Lokre offer, essentially kicking the can down the road until a decision is made on John Leszcynski’s offer.

Abendroth said this week it’s possible the Common Council will consider the Lokre proposal in January.

Mequon also has grant money available through the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for green infrastructure that can be applied toward a parking lot. There is an expiration date on tapping those funds, the mayor said.

Other possibilities for the site include enhancing the area near the Ozaukee Interurban Trail to provide a rest area and other amenities for trail users.

The developers of the Foxtown development on the south side of Mequon Road previously have proposed an ambitious plan to upgrade the Rennicke Field baseball diamond, the city pool and other portions of the civic campus. The developers put those plans on the back burner as discussions regarding Leszcynski’s Backwoods Pub & Grill continued.

Mequon residents, including Kerry Ann Quimi, have addressed the Common Council at recent meetings to voice support for the Foxtown plan. Some obtained approximately 300 signatures on petitions opposing the plans for the restaurant, which they said would exacerbate existing parking problems.

In an email to the News Graphic, Quimi said the action by three aldermen and mayor to oppose selling the land “paves the way for longtime reputable residents, Foxtown Ventures, to upgrade the city park, pool and sports field and welcome back young families who frequent neighboring cities’ pools and parks, revitalizing the Town Center and beautifying our park campus for generations to come.”

Abendroth said there are a variety of steps that can be taken with the property.

“There are a number of hypotheticals waiting for this circus to stop,” he said.

<<EARLIER: Logemann’s future gets even murkier