Sister Bay Restaurant Ordinance Gets First Test: Ice Cream Factory Project Praised

It didn’t take long for Sister Bay to get back into the prickly discussion of what defines a fast-food restaurant.

The village passed a ban on formula restaurants Aug. 10, and two days later its Plan Commission was debating the definition of fast food.

Todd Frisoni, owner of the Door County Ice Cream Factory, has purchased a vacant property in downtown Sister Bay across from the Sister Bay Café. Frisoni plans to relocate his restaurant to the property, where he also plans to build a second-story hotel.

Frisoni, a village resident with a young family who has owned the Ice Cream Factory, located just north of the village in Liberty Grove, for over 10 years, presented the outline of his project to the Plan Commission Aug. 12. He received near-universal praise from Plan Commissioners for its design and concept. As Village President and Plan Commissioner Denise Bhirdo put it, “it’s exactly what we want to see downtown.”

But “what we want” doesn’t make getting the OK as simple as it would seem.

Frisoni’s restaurant features counter service and no wait staff, two characteristics of fast-food restaurants the village has sought to keep at bay. If it is determined to be a fast-food establishment, the project could be subject to conditional use permitting, a more arduous, time-consuming process for approval.

Plan Commissioner Eric Lundquist noted that nobody would categorize Frisoni’s restaurant with other fast-food chains. But the meeting illustrated how difficult it is to define in an ordinance what is generally understood through logos and feel.

Plan Commissioner John Clove called the project a “slam dunk,” and implored the commission and board (he is a Village Trustee) not to add unnecessary delays to the project.

“We just spent 2-3 hours in the last few meetings to try to make the process easier for people to develop,” he said.

The Ice Cream Factory project appears likely to gain approval, contingent on a review of wetlands on the property. The project features a hotel component, which officials desperately want downtown after Helm’s Four Seasons was demolished to make way for the expanded Waterfront Park three years ago.

Frisoni said he initially hoped to break ground this fall, but Village Administrator Bob Kufrin requested much greater detail about the plan as required by village regulations. The next Plan Commission meeting at which Frisoni could present such information is Sept. 9, and he wasn’t sure he could get all the information together by then. Frisoni said further delays could push ground-breaking back to next fall.