Subway May Slip Into Conditional Use

The biggest news at the Sister Bay Plan Commission meeting March 25 came after almost everyone had gone home.

Village Administrator Bob Kufrin said he overlooked a line in the zoning code that would make a proposal to build a Subway restaurant on Highway 42 in Sister Bay subject to a conditional use permit, which would hold it to strict review standards.

The epiphany came after nearly two hours of discussion and public comment at the meeting that attracted a standing-room only crowd. Originally, Kufrin determined that the proposal qualified as a permitted use, which means the village can’t deny the permit but can exert some architectural and aesthetic control. But when resident Zack Lozoff raised a question about the drive-up window included in the design, Kufrin went back to the zoning code and found that drive-up and drive-through restaurants are subject to conditional use standards.

That means the plan becomes subject to a public hearing in which the Plan Commission must take all comments into account and determine that the proposal “causes no harm” to the community.

“It’s a whole different ball game in terms of approval,” Kufrin said.

So, after four hours, 20 speakers, and the reading of 15 emails and letters, Village President Denise Bhirdo asked Kufrin to return to the Plan Commission next month with a formal opinion on the matter, and the issue was tabled. Kufrin said he wasn’t sure if removing the window would move the project back into permitted use territory.

The Subway plan was proposed by Green Bay-area developer Bruce Gajewski.

“My goal is to come up here and be part of the community,” Gajewski said in his presentation to the commission. “I want to work with the school.”

Gajewski, who owns seven Subways in and around Green Bay, said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to build the restaurant and has already reworked his design to include Door County fieldstone. He said he has been looking at possible locations in Sister Bay for several years. He pursued the possibility of locating his restaurant in the Pamida building and the Sister Bay Mobile gas station but couldn’t reach an agreement at either location.

Before the floor was opened to public comment, Kufrin clarified that ordinances that don’t allow chain stores to locate in particular municipalities have not stood up to legal challenges. Such an ordinance would regulate interstate commerce, and only the federal government has the power to do so. He did not think that would be a route the village could take to stop chain restaurants from moving into the community in the future.

Pat Hockers, Gajewski’s brother-in-law, spoke in favor of the Subway plan. “He is a very responsible person. He brings a lot of taste to the Subway name.”

Hockers pointed to all the existing retail stores that have ties to national chains like Ace Hardware, RadioShack, Pamida, and Bumper-to-Bumper.

“Those would not be here if not for the edge of the brand names,” he said. “I’d give the man a chance.”

Plan Commission member Eric Lundquist clarified the stance of some who are opposed to the proposal, pointing out that people who live in the community own most of those businesses with chain affiliations. Edward DiMaio said he sees fast-food chains in a different light than other national brands.

Many expected a contentious meeting with hot tempers and accusations, but the crowd was respectful of all viewpoints.

“I was so proud of everyone at the meeting,” Bhirdo said. “People applauded for good comments from both sides of the issue, there were no personal attacks, and people were able to agree to disagree. This is how people should communicate, and it just made me so happy and so proud.”

Zack Lozoff suggested that Gajewski pursue a location in an existing building such as the Carroll House, which is for sale, or the vacant property that used to be home to Properties of Door County.

Several people said the absence of fast-food chains in Northern Door was the reason they visited or moved to the area, while two high school students spoke in favor of the project, saying it would give them an affordable place to eat and a non-bar atmosphere to hang out in.

Joel Bremer, who owns Good Eggs in Ephraim, said he hopes Gajewski understands how slim the pickings are in Northern Door.

“It’s enough for me because clean air and clean water is what I subsist on,” he said, pointing out that the business owners that are able to scrape through the thin winters in Door County must work their kitchens and counters every day to make it work.

The Plan Commission will re-address the proposal at its next meeting April 15.