BURLINGTON — The Burlington Plan Commission decided to forward Casey’s General Store’s proposal for 100-125 S. Dodge St. to the City Council’s Committee of the Whole, although the discussion raised the question of the commission’s role in shaping the business landscape of the community.
When Casey’s presented the project to the commission in December, commissioners had asked the company to revise the design to better fit the surrounding architecture of the city’s historic downtown area.
Lauren Downing, a project manager at Arc Design Resources, presented the updated proposal which included the requested changes. A substantial amount of the fire engine red signage had been replaced with tan and the boxy exterior changed to include a hipped roof.
During the public hearing, 4th District Alderman Tom Preusker said he liked the new design but was concerned about flooding at the location, which was underwater during last July’s historic flood.
“I’m concerned about flammable material in an area that was underwater during the last flood,” said Preusker. “I have no doubt that it complies completely with our existing ordinances and codes, yet it’s my understanding that I don’t think any of those have been updated yet to reflect the reality that we all experienced in July last year.”
Downing responded that the tanks would be strapped down so buoyancy would’t be an issue, and the layout has placed the tanks out of the 100-year flood zone and only half are within the 500-year flood zone.
Joe Cherian, whose father-in-law owns the Mobile station at State and Main streets, asked why the city needed another gas station when their business is struggling.
“Bringing in the Casey’s so close to us is going to greatly affect us,” said Cherian. “You’ll have one beautiful site here but you’ll have five, six boarded-up sites. Is that what you want?”
Third District Alderman Tom Vos argued that competition is part of doing business.
“That may be hard-hearted, but all these years that I was in the roofing business, I would have loved to have been the only roofing contractor,” said Vos. “But that’s not reality.”
Vos argued that as long as a business crossed its T’s and dotted their I’s, the Plan Commission should approve the plan.
“I don’t think the Planning Commission has the right or the ability to decide who comes to Burlington, as long as they meet our codes, our requirements, our zoning, so on and so forth,” said Vos.
Second District Alderman Bob Grandi, who dialed into Tuesday’s meeting by phone, said that he agreed the commission’s job is not to stifle competition but questioned whether a gas station was the best use for the lot.
City Planner Tanya Fonseca said that, according to the city’s comprehensive plan, the lot in question was marked for industry, which doesn’t reflect the changes that have occurred along the city’s riverfront in recent years.
“That’s a good question — how you can determine highest and best use? — and there’s, of course, no easy answer,” said Fonseca. “It is something that we’re going to grapple with in the community for decades to come, parcel by parcel.”
One of the resolutions that was passed on Tuesday was an amendment to the comprehensive plan to accommodate Casey’s. Fonseca said the city is about to undertake the comprehensive planning process to update the plan.
“This is an opportunity to start visioning what we do want in the community,” she said. “Not only for this parcel, but beyond.”
The Plan Commission passed the resolutions allowing Casey’s to move to the next step in the process, which is to go before the City Council’s Committee of the Whole and ultimately the full council.
The committee will consider the proposal to amend the map so the two lots on the block will become one and be rezoned for business. The council will hold a public hearing regarding the amendments.
RACINE — Nonprofits throughout Racine County are preparing for how they’ll maintain contribution levels as a new tax law takes effect that some worry will cause donations to decline.
The new federal law increased the size of the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly in the next tax year. That change, among others in the law, is anticipated to decrease the number of people who itemize deductions on their tax returns and increase the cost of charitable giving. With those expectations in mind, local nonprofits are increasing their engagement with donors to ensure they sustain their funding and continue to serve people in need.
Rodney Prunty, the president of United Way of Racine County, said his organization is concerned at both the local and national levels about how this new tax law could affect its funding. United Way works with local organizations to promote health, education and financial stability, he said. A decrease in giving to United Way, Prunty said, means a decrease in giving by United Way to other nonprofits.
“Any impact that we see because of this would also affect our nonprofit partners through the funding they get from us,” Prunty said.
The organization is not opposed to the larger standard deduction in and of itself, he said, but he’s concerned about how it might affect donations. About 80 percent of its budget comes from local workplace campaigns, Prunty said.
His organization has been talking with higher level donors about considering increases to their gifts because of the change, he said.
President Donald Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law in December. The Tax Policy Center estimates the new law will reduce charitable contributions by about 5 percent.
Donations may be smaller because giving could be more expensive under the law. Still, Prunty said he expects people will give.
“I think most people give for altruistic reasons,” he said.
Jason Meekma, a Racine alderman who is the executive director of the nonprofit Focus on Community, shared a similar sentiment. The organization works with youth and families on substance abuse prevention and relies on donations for about a quarter of its annual budget. He said he views the anticipation as more of a speed bump that will be overcome by people’s motivation to give because they support Focus’ cause.
“People care and, because people care, we’re able to depend on them,” he said. “I’m hopeful and confident that people might even give a little bit more now, and they’ll see that there is a need.”
Meekma said Focus has not developed any specific plans to combat the potential donor drop-off, but it will increase its engagement with contributors to keep them apprised of the organization’s work.
The new law has raised some concerns at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Racine and Kenosha Counties, said Ashleigh Henrichs, the organization’s executive director. The organization has been keeping an eye on the change as donations make up about 30 percent of its budget, she said.
Big Brothers Big Sisters, which provides mentoring for kids, may see some impact and is always looking for new ways to increase revenue, Henrichs said. One change the organization is making is to emphasize monthly donations instead of end-of-year contributions.
That will provide a steady flow of income, she said.
“We wanted to be proactive,” said Henrichs.
RACINE — Training sessions to educate tenants and landlords about their responsibilities are in development for Racine.
Edward Miller, the executive director of the partnership, said this program was offered years ago by a different group. When resources became available to the area, the organizations decided it was time to bring the program back. Miller said the program aims to help tenants and landlords understand their duties.
“We’re hoping in both cases … to improve tenant-landlord relationships by giving the knowledge of their rights and the knowledge of their expectations so that we can effectively set expectations for both parties,” he said.
Many of the calls concerning fair housing the city receives are related to disputes between landlords and tenants, according to a memo by Laura Detert, Racine’s manager of Housing and Community Development.
“The city provides practical advice and referrals, but more is needed to reach the needs of renters,” the memo states.
Renters can learn about evictions, requesting repairs, environmental health standards and searching for new rental units, according to the memo. The session for landlords is expected to cover effective renter screening, maintenance and management tips and best practices.
Miller said the landlords’ session also aims to provide education about programs they can participate in to make housing available to people who use vouchers or other assistance.
“One of the biggest challenges we face is providing housing to people who are … housing challenged and maybe even homeless,” Miller said. “If they have some resources available to them, we want to make sure that they can utilize those resources.”
The Journal Times reported in December that advocates said the community could reduce homelessness by expanding access to affordable housing.
Specific dates were not set for the program, but Miller said he expects the sessions to take place in April and May. If demand is high enough, he said, his organization aims to make the program an annual offering.
Other organizations involved in the program include Racine Neighborhood Watch, the Southern Wisconsin Landlords Association, Housing Resources Inc., the Center for Veterans Issues, HALO, Legal Action of Wisconsin and UW-Extension, city records show.
The city may pursue a grant to help fund the event, a memo from the Finance and Personnel Committee meeting this week shows. The $8,000 grant from Associated Bank would in part be used to pay for expenses related to the event, such as the development and legal review of materials, incentives and food for trainings, speaker fees and marketing.
The remaining $2,000 of the grant would pay for the creation and maintenance of a fair lending webpage on the Racine Housing Repair Loan Program website, the memo states.
The City Development Department received similar grants in the past two years. A 2017 grant funded a Fair Lending and Small Business Summit, according to the memo.