Big Decisions on Liquor Licenses, Village Hall on Ephraim’s January Docket

Several long-term discussions for Ephraim could come to a conclusion – or at least gain new direction – in January as the board of trustees aims to make decisions on its capital projects plan, village hall parking, and retail wine and liquor sales

All three of those topics were up for discussion during its Dec. 13 meeting, and board president Mike McCutcheon said he expects the board to make decisions on them in January. 

The alcohol question has been under discussion since early in 2022, when Monique McClean, owner of Pearl Wine Cottage, sought to expand her business to sell wine in a retail setting similar to grocery stores, gas stations and specialty shops. 

In 2016, the village voted to allow on-premise sales of wine and beer, ending its status as Wisconsin’s last dry town. Under Wisconsin law, McClean would need to obtain a Class A liquor license, which allows the sale of distilled spirits and wine for off-premise consumption.

The board has been reviewing its options for months, attempting to write an ordinance in a way that would give the trustees control over the types of businesses that could obtain a license. During its December meeting, the board appeared to be in general support of the language it had crafted with attorney James Kalney that would allow for one Class A license for every 250 residents. Ephraim’s population is 354, which would mean two could be awarded.

The draft includes language stating that the board “has a duty to the citizens of the Village of Ephraim to promote public health, safety, morals and the general welfare of the community,” and that the board will award licenses with that in mind. Consideration criteria include the applicant’s place of residence, type of use of location, location relative to other uses, and general site conditions. 

Niles Weborg, speaking from the audience, was vehemently opposed to any expansion of alcohol sales, blaming “outsiders” for voting to change the village ordinance.

“This should have been the only town in Wisconsin that was dry,” he said. “This isn’t a quaint little town anymore.”

Weborg said the issuance of a Class A license is “just a stepping stone to getting a tavern.”

Village Hall Parking

The board will also decide on a recommendation from its Physical Facilities Committee to reshape the entrance to the village hall and reconfigure parking to better highlight the building.

“It’s probably the most unique architectural building we have in Door County,” said Ken Nelson during the Dec. 13 meeting. “It’s a treasure. And it’s always troubled me that it’s paved [in front].”

The new plan would trade the five parking spaces in front for green space and replace those parking spots with parallel parking along the highway, creating a net gain of one space. But the plan was derided by trustees Tim Nelson and McCutcheon, as well as several audience members who said it was dangerous to put parallel-parking spaces around the northbound curve. 

McCutcheon said he originally thought it made sense to add green space and improve the aesthetics of the village hall, but that the proposed plan doesn’t do enough to warrant the cost and change. 

Attendee John Cox worried about traffic backups in the village because of the parallel-parking arrangement.

“I could see traffic backing up to German Road for people parallel parking there,” he said. “To me it’s a safety issue.”

Todd Bennett, owner of Chef’s Hat restaurant, located next to the village hall, said the new one-way driveway configuration would become a bottleneck when large trucks made deliveries to his restaurant, as well as to Wilson’s and Trixie’s nearby.

Before making a decision, McCutcheon said the village will mark the green space and stage vehicles in the proposed new arrangement to give residents and trustees a realistic look at what the change would look like. 

Anderson Dock, North End Path Get Priority Billing

The board will also set a direction on recommendations from the Capital Projects Ad Hoc Committee regarding five projects the village is pursuing. Those include Anderson Dock and the Hardy Gallery building, a north-end path and lighting, maintenance-garage improvements, and a potential fire station addition. The total estimated cost of all the projects is $5.6 million. 

“It’s gonna take some time to do these,” McCutcheon said. “It’s a vision of five years – maybe 10 years, depending on how much it’s going to cost and where we can find the money to support these.”

Ken Nelson said that after 15 meetings, it became clear that Anderson Dock was the top priority for the village and its residents due to its condition and historical status. 

“Anderson Dock is the most unique, most expensive of the projects,” he said. “But I don’t think it will be difficult to raise money for it.” 

He suggested that a separate committee be formed to guide that project to completion, but Tim Nelson disagreed, saying a separate committee would slow the process.

The committee put the north Ephraim path next on the priority list. It could largely be funded with the $360,000 left over from the original streetscape project bond. The total cost of the proposed off-road, multimodal path on the east side of Highway 42 is $430,000.

The committee also recommends replacing the maintenance garage at a cost of $1.5 million, and building a new addition at the fire station – for offices and space for village administrative offices and village meetings – at a cost of $2.05 million. 

The lowest-ranking project on the list is new street lighting for the north end of the village. Decorative street lighting like what was installed in the downtown area would cost an estimated $890,000. The committee suggested constructing the path and path lighting, and then seeing whether that is adequate before pursuing the street-lighting project. 

One hot-button issue that’s still to be resolved is the proposal to build 22 single-family homes on Town Line Drive on the north end of the village. McCutcheon said the board is waiting for a response to several questions sent to developers Chris Schmelz and Keith Garot earlier this fall before making a final decision on that proposal. 

The board’s next meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 10. 

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