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Racine Brewing Co. co-owner Andy Molina fills a drink order during the business' grand opening celebration Saturday.

Wedding barns
Local wedding barns affected by liquor license debate

A statewide legal debate regarding whether wedding barns need to obtain liquor licenses to host events where alcohol is served could affect several businesses in western Racine County and eastern Walworth County.

In the debate’s latest development, two wedding barns and the Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty on Jan. 14 filed a lawsuit in Dunn County Circuit Court against Gov. Tony Evers administration. The suit seeks to prevent wedding-barn proprietors from being required to obtain a liquor license to have alcohol at their events.

The issue was resurrected by an informal legal opinion issued last November by then-Attorney General Brad Schimel that said wedding barns constitute public places because they are available for the public to rent. Under state law, a public place must have an alcohol license if alcohol is present, but the law does not define what a public place is.

Critics of Schimel’s opinion say that because wedding barns are privately owned and operated, they should not be considered a public place.

The Tavern League of Wisconsin fired back against the lawsuit Tuesday with a memo sent to all state legislators.

“License and regulate everyone or no one,” Chris Mariscano, president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, wrote. “A decision by the court indicating that a license is not required for a licensed event would effectively signal the end of regulation of alcohol in Wisconsin.”

“Why do I need a liquor license if they (wedding barns) don’t?” said Dean Larsen, president of the Racine County Tavern League and owner of the Hogs Nest Saloon, 4301 S. Beaumont Ave., Kansasville. Wedding barns, Larsen said, are cutting into the business of Tavern League-affiliated banquet halls and other wedding venues.

Dave Flannery, owner of Apple Holler, 5006 S. Sylvania Ave., Yorkville, which has a wedding barn available for rent, said requiring wedding barns to get a liquor license is “restricting free enterprise.”

Local barns affected

Apple Holler and several other area wedding barns have liquor licenses already, and so would be able to continue business as usual if new Attorney General Josh Kaul — who has not spoken on the issue yet —does not reverse Schimel’s interpretation.

However, two local wedding barns would be at risk because they do not hold a liquor license: The Farm at Dover, 26060 Washington Ave., Dover, and The Barn at Wagon Wheel Farm, 5264 Warren Road, Lyons. All of Dover’s liquor licenses are currently taken, but Lyons has available one reserve license, which carries a $10,000 fee to obtain.

For its bartending, The Farm at Dover partners with Burlington-based Drink Inc., which is licensed.

“We believe our current arrangement with our bartending service carrying a liquor license works best for us,” said Tom Hamilton, owner of The Farm at Dover. “We’re operating legally under current law and are exploring other options with the Town of Dover and our state representatives should the laws change.”

Hamilton declined to describe what steps he is taking with the town: “We’re just working with them right now, so that’s all I want to say.”

The Barn at Wagon Wheel Farm did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, whose district includes the towns of Dover and Burlington, is following the issue, according to Kit Beyer, Vos’ communications director.

“As a small business owner, Speaker Vos is concerned when entrepreneurs start their business under one set of rules that they believed and now the interpretation of those rules is being questioned,” Beyer said in an email. “With the new administration and attorney general, he’s interested in seeing where they stand on the laws affecting this industry, which will help determine whether the Legislature needs to provide any clarification.”

Fear of lost business

Renee Richter, owner of two wedding barns, The Landing 1841 in the Town of Burlington and Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens in Spring Prairie, said if wedding barns were suddenly required to have liquor licenses but could not get one right away, they would lose business because couples would likely look elsewhere for a wedding venue where they could have alcohol.

Richter has liquor licenses for both The Landing 1841 and Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens, but it was not always that way. The Landing 1841 has been licensed for two years, before the debate began. But with all the uncertainty surrounding how the liquor license issue will turn out, Richter said she felt compelled to get a license for Rustic Barn at Prairie Gardens last August.

The local effects of the outcome of the debate reach further than just wedding barns.

Mike Spiegelhoff, owner of Drink Inc. and co-owner of Gooseberries Fresh Food Market in Burlington, services various area wedding barns including The Farm at Dover and both of Richter’s wedding barns in addition to private events at other locations. Spiegelhoff said if any of his clients needed liquor licenses — either due to a new law or a new interpretation of the current law — but could not get one, he would not be able to bartend at those events.

“If they pass this, they’re pretty much shutting my business down,” Spiegelhoff said.

“It’s nerve-wracking, because we’ve got contracts through 2020. So then what? You’re going to tell me that because you are reinterpreting the law that I can’t fulfill my business with these clients?”

Call for compromise

Richter said the issue seems to fall in a gray area.

“I don’t know that either side is necessarily 100 percent right,” she said. “I also don’t know the logistics of how they could require this license, if they’re not available.”

Flannery said he would like to see some sort of compromise, such as only requiring wedding barns to get temporary licenses. Hamilton said he hopes existing wedding barns that operate without a liquor license, like his, would be grandfathered in should the laws change.

But Larsen said it is only fair that wedding barns should be required to have liquor licenses, regardless of whether their municipality has licenses available.

“They’re in a gray area, but not a legal gray area,” Larsen said. “The way I look at it, it’s illegal.”

“It should be done the right way. If there’s licenses (available) in the area, get one; if there’s not, then you shouldn’t be there.”

The lawsuit comes after nearly a year of uncertainty. The state Assembly last year passed a Tavern League of Wisconsin-backed bill that would have required private property owners who charge to use their property to have liquor licenses if alcohol was on the premises.

WILL issued a memorandum before the state Senate voted on the bill that asserted the law was so broad it would force, for example, someone who charged for parking on their lawn near Lambeau Field to have a liquor license if anyone parked there was tailgating.

The Senate never voted on the bill and it died.

“Why do I need a liquor license if they (wedding barns) don’t?” Dean Larsen, president of the Racine County Tavern League and owner of the Hogs Nest Saloon, 4301 S. Beaumont Ave., Kansasville

The Foxconn Effect
Foxconn effect: Will Raymond be next to incorporate?

RAYMOND — The Town of Raymond could soon be the next town to incorporate as a village.

More than 150 people packed into the Raymond Town Hall on Thursday night for an informational meeting regarding the possibility of Raymond incorporating as a village.

Raymond officials passed a resolution last November to include a referendum asking citizens if they want to incorporate as a village on the April 2 election ballot. The town is able to incorporate under special state legislation that says it can choose this route because it is adjacent to the Foxconn development.

Citizens spent almost two hours posing questions to Stan Riffle, Raymond’s municipal attorney, and Raymond’s five-member town board on Thursday night. Riffle has represented Pewaukee, Richfield and Summit in their successful fights to incorporate as villages.

“This can be gift, or not a gift — you guys will make the decision,” Riffle said to Raymond citizens. “Most towns that I’ve represented want to be incorporated … it’s the dream.”

Pros and cons

Riffle presented four main changes to Raymond if residents choose to incorporate.

Incorporation would protect Raymond from being annexed by neighboring villages or cities. Raymond would have control over its planning and zoning — something Racine County controls now. Incorporation also would enable Raymond to apply for additional federal, state and local grants.

What could be the biggest positive effect, Riffle said, is a village’s ability to use economic development tools in the form of tax incremental financing. Raymond has struggled to figure out how to finance sewer and water facilities along the Interstate 94 corridor without having taxpayers foot the bill. This could change with incorporation, as tax incremental financing could subsidize companies to help finance developments.

“At some point and time ... we are going to have the opportunity to have that development pay for itself,” said Riffle. “Essentially, what it does, is it does not put the cost of infrastructure on the backs of taxpayers.”

Riffle also discussed the fact that many services across the town, including police, fire and public works, would not change with incorporation. Raymond currently contracts with the Racine County Sheriff’s Office. It also has its own fire and rescue department as well. Incorporation would additionally not require the town to get a post office.

Paperwork for the entire process would cost Raymond $5,000 to $7,000. Additional costs would include paying for the change in signage.

If approved, Raymond could continue to have a five-member board or it could move to seven members.

No new taxes

Taxes also were discussed at the meeting. Town Board Chairman Gary Kastenson said taxes will not go up under the current board.

“As far as taxes going up, it’s pretty much who is in charge of the board,” he said. “Otherwise, everything is pretty much going to stay the same.”

Harold Strohmeier, chair of the town Planning Commission, said he called the Village of Yorkville, which incorporated last year under the same legislation that would allow Raymond to incorporate, to see what officials there had to say about the move from town to village.

“The upside is very obvious, but I am always interested in what is the downside,” said Strohmeier. “They (Yorkville) didn’t have any, other than a few thousand dollars for the paperwork.”

One concern some residents and board members have regarding incorporation is the Cooperative Boundary Agreement between Raymond and the Village of Caledonia — which largely affects land along the I-94 corridor. Raymond Supervisor Doug Schwartz said Riffle is looking into what implications incorporation could have for that agreement. The board members said they hope to soon receive more information from Riffle.

Town’s response

Cathy Jacobs, a Raymond resident “on and off” since 1963, said the meeting answered many of her questions.

“My concern was, as we move from town to village: What do we gain and what do we give up?” said Jacobs. “It’s critical now that we have good foresight and control, and people collaborating and working together.”

Art Binhack, who is a member of the Planning Commission but attended the meeting and asked questions as a resident, said he also was happy with the answers he received.

“I think what came out of the meeting was the actual definitions of the two entities, and how they’re different and how they’re similar,” he said. “They’re very similar in a lot of ways… and they differ in some profound ways. I think it means we will have some more control over our local area.”

Jacobs said she is still waiting to see what Foxconn’s impact will be on the region, specially Raymond, when it comes to the increased need for housing.

“What I don’t have clarity on, and I don’t think we know yet, is the Foxconn impact to all neighboring townships and villages,” she said. “I think they (Town Board) still have more homework to do, but I think with Foxconn and the state’s engagement in allowing this opportunity, it’s a good move, in my opinion.”

Parents weigh in on voucher vs. public schools

RACINE — Education, its funding, and how that funding should be doled out are hotly debated subjects in Wisconsin. Parents want their children to get the best education possible, but they do not always agree on what that means.

Some are thankful for publicly funded vouchers to pay for their children to attend private schools, something they might not be able to afford otherwise. Others say that tax dollars should stay in public institutions. Some parents say that despite a questionable reputation, their children have had good experiences at Racine Unified schools.

When The Journal Times asked local parents to weigh in, motivations to send children to private schools included small class sizes, better discipline, religious teachings and safety concerns at public schools. Others said the benefits of public schools included special education and language-immersion programs as well as exposure to real-world issues.

In total, The Journal Times communicated via email, phone call and in person with 11 parents and grandparents who shared their experiences with the local public and private school systems.

Craig Hansen of Racine said that as his older daughters approached kindergarten age, he and his wife, Brittany, worried about where to send their children to school.

“We researched online, talked to neighbors, and visited schools,” he said via email. “We heard many stories of unruly and violent students.”

Safety was one of the multiple factors in their decision not to send their children to a Racine Unified school.

His daughters, now 10 and 11, have attended Renaissance School in Racine through the state’s voucher program since kindergarten. Hansen values not only the education his daughters are getting, but the other life skills they learn at school.

“They teach about respect for others, respect for yourself, how to carry yourself, morals, ethics, and caring about others, as well as giving back to the community,” Hansen said.

He believes that vouchers should be available to parents to provide them the opportunity to chose where to send their children to school.

“Renaissance may not have the newest facilities and the state-of-the-art equipment that other schools may have,” Hansen said. “What they do have is heart. The effort and love for education and the students is there. Not just from the teachers and staff, but from the parents who made the choice to enroll their children there.”

Special education

Cassandra Ryan said that she initially wanted to send her children to a private school through the voucher program, but learned that some of the schools she was looking at didn’t offer the special-education services her children need. They now attend Racine Unified schools.

Although Ryan has had her fair share of issues with Racine Unified, she’s feeling much better about the education they’re receiving today. Ryan’s daughter was racking up suspensions at Goodland Elementary, so Ryan enrolled her at Bull Fine Arts through Unified’s school choice option. She began attending there in fall 2017 and this year is at Gilmore, the new home of Fine Arts. Ryan said her daughter made a complete turnaround at Fine Arts, with no suspensions or phone calls about behavior, as well as better grades.

“I do have to say Gilmore Fine Arts is amazing,” Ryan said.

She said the parent involvement at Gilmore makes a big difference. She encourages other public-school parents to advocate for their children and to make sure they’re at the school that’s best for them. Her son had been moved through a string of Unified schools but now attends SC Johnson. Ryan called the teacher who deals with his and other students’ behaviors “amazing.”

“I’ll have to say not all RUSD schools are horrible as people make them seem like,” Ryan said. “It takes parents to come together and work with the school, teacher and your child.”

Thankful for vouchers

Caroline Gabellini said she would not have been able to send her son to Our Lady of Grace Academy, one of Siena Catholic Schools’ K-8 schools, without the help of the voucher program. Now in fourth grade, he’s been attending the school since 4K.

“I had my heart set on private school,” she said.

She likes the small class sizes, especially because it gives teachers more time to work with students individually. She also likes that he attends Mass on Wednesdays.

“I think it’s the best thing ever,” she said of the voucher program.

She added that she wants a good future for her son and to put him on the right path.

Dual language

Even though Gifford is her child’s boundary school, Kim Anderson sends her child to Wadewitz because of its dual language program. Her 6-year-old daughter isn’t a native Spanish speaker, but Anderson believes that being bilingual will be advantageous to her in the future.

Anderson said some of her neighbors question her decision, as Gifford has a reputation as one of Unified’s best schools, and some of them moved there just so their kids could attend. Anderson said her daughter felt a little out of place starting in the dual-language program when she was 4, as one of the few students who weren’t native Spanish speakers, but she now feels like it’s a superpower.

“She loves to teach Spanish to other kids,” Anderson said.