'Those don't fit Mequon'
Still no decision on Associated Bank sign

By Gary Achterberg

March 14, 2019

 A proposed new branch of Associated Bank on North Port Washington Road in Mequon
includes plans for a glass tower with an illuminated logo.
Drawing courtesy of Rinka Architects

MEQUON — Developers of an Associated Bank planned for North Port Washington Road reached an impasse with the Mequon Planning Commission Monday over requests for signage.

Representatives from Bolder Venture, a Milwaukee-based real estate development firm, are asking for several variances from the city’s sign rules for the Associated Bank branch they hope to begin building later this year. For the second time this year, they walked away without a green light.

The Planning Commission approved the building and site plan for the planned 7,600-squarefoot bank at 11223 N. Port Washington Road, which is on the west side of the road between PNC Bank and the strip mall that includes Starbucks. They took that action Jan. 14 but denied a sign waiver request. The Common Council approved the building and site plan Feb. 12.

Bolder Venture representatives returned to the Planning Commission Monday with a request to revisit the tower sign and to consider proposals for signs on the side of the building that would exceed city height rules. They also proposed a green band around the top of the tower.

In the end, they walked away with nothing. Commissioners voted to table their request after hearing Jac Zader, the city’s assistant director of Community Development, say he would rather work through the process over the coming month than negotiate a deal on the fly.

The disagreement appeared to pit Mequon’s sign rules with the bank’s branding concept, which Robert Schmidt III, a managing partner for Bolder Venture, said is consistent across virtually all Associated Bank’s locations.

“This would be the first time Associated Bank constructs their prototype branch without the tower signage,” according to a project narrative Bolder Venture submitted to the city. “Those don’t fit Mequon,” countered Alderman Rob Strzelczyk, who sits on the Planning Commission. He added that the McDonald’s restaurant across the street has signs that are more subtle than many of its locations and customers have no problem finding it.

“If you vote for this tonight, this is something that is going to be allowable to every business,” Strzelczyk said.

Commissioners discussed a variety of different options that included reducing the height of the tower, permitting some type of more subdued artistic variation of the logo in the tower and the use of a monument sign along the street.

Ultimately, the Planning Commission took no action. It’s expected city staff and Bolder Venture representatives will meet in the coming weeks and work out a plan likely to gain Planning Commission approval.

In another matter, commissioners tabled a request from ICAP Development to rezone the 8.9-acre parcel that was the former home to the Jewish Home and Care Center, 10865 and 10911 N. Port Washington Road. The property, which has been vacant for more than a decade, now has institutional zoning. Developers would like it changed to B-2, a community commercial designation.

While precise plans have not been proposed, the concept plan shows a commercial development with the potential for five separate tenant spaces.

It was expected prior to the meeting that some specifics of the project would be discussed by commissioners, but the rezoning request would be tabled until additional work could be completed.

The discussion Monday centered on several specimen trees on the property. Jerad Proteskey, vice president of development for ICAP Development, said at least some of the trees will present “significant financial implications” and make it more difficult to manage stormwater and install utilities on the property.

City staff did not immediately appear willing to permit the trees to come down.

“I don’t see any hardship involved in developing this property,” Mayor Dan Abendroth said. “I think the trees should stay – and according to the ordinance, they must stay.”

Developers are expected to return to the Planning Commission after they work with city staff to redesign the project so it avoids the trees.