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Friday, October 16, 2009

Janesville Homeowners May Have Won A Battle, But It's Not Over Yet

In a rare split decision, the Janesville city council voted to honor the concerns of a small group of residents who fought to defend whatever little tranquility they have left in a mixed residential/light business area of the city. Afterwards, the Janesville Gazette decided to take on an activist role in opposition to the homeowners.
JG Excerpt:
The Janesville City Council on Monday listened to neighbors who said they feared noise and drunken patrons, then rejected a request to open a bar with connected volleyball courts.
To their credit, the council did listen to the tavern's nearby residents and neighbors, but only half of the them acted responsibly. One council member was absent. Still, that was enough to deny the request. But for how long? The petitioners might come back and do it all over again with a full seven member council. If that happens, the deciding vote could be cast by a council member who has a long history of voting with developer interests. In that case, the good folks defending their neck of the woods better savor the moment – it may be fleeting. Even more so now that the Janesville Gazette was willing to help muscle their way in with their intimidating and shameless editorial posted in Thursday’s paper.
JG Editorial Excerpt:
The Janesville City Council sent the wrong message to the business community and idled General Motors workers in rejecting a proposed bar and restaurant on Woodsman Road.
That is what they think? When three members of the council stand up with nearby property owners and taxpayers – there can't possibly be no other conclusion to draw to except to claim it’s the wrong message to the business community?
JG Editorial Excerpt:
It’s no wonder. DeWitt is a former GM worker and he and his partners have spent a year working on the project.
This coming from a newspaper that has allowed its printing presses to be used as a battering ram against 2,000 GM union workers over the past ten years, somehow finds a way to distort a city council vote into an act of aggression against GM workers? Simply because the business entrepreneur happens to, gasp, be a former GM worker? Talk about hypocritical demogoguery. But one has to wonder how slow-witted do they think their readers are?

Clearly, this is not about business. The council members who sided with the homeowners also supported the core business plan of the entrepreneurs. And it’s not about jobs. And it certainly is not personal. It’s about the city council’s number one responsibility and duty to the people of that particular neighborhood in this particular case. Three council members got this one right.

And it's about location, location, location.
JG Excerpt:
"The people came out to voice their opinion, and we listened," he said, adding he believes there are locations that would accommodate the venture better.
You bet there are. In the comment area of this Web Page is a list of at least 40 people who apparently want the tavern and volley ball court in one of their own back yards. That’s a good start. One neighborhood already said thanks but no thanks. I respect that.

But it now opens a tremendous opportunity for the 40 or so posters, the Gazette editorial staff and the three council members to pro-actively engage the business entrepreneurs to discuss the possibility of opening up a bar/volley court within a hundred feet of one of their homes. They could call their economic development group YIMBY for “Yes in my back yard.” I certainly would not join YIMBY but would blog favorably in support of their efforts and patronize the business. Just think of the endless possibilities.

I’m pro-business, pro-property rights and pro-citizen. I’d stand with any citizen who would sacrifice their property, peace and enjoyment so someone else can draw a profit. At the same time, I’d stand with any citizen who refuses to surrender those rights.
JG Excerpt:
Yuri Rashkin is a member of the Alcohol License Advisory Committee and said the police had no concerns about the venture. "If the police department has no concerns, that's usually something that the ALAC respects," he said.
By voting in favor of the tavern/volley ball business, Councilman Rashkin put the perceived lack of concerns from the police department over a bevy of serious concerns from the taxpayers, residents and nearby homeowners who felt strongly they would be adversely effected by the business venture. Councilman Frank Perrotto deemed the concerns of the nearby homeowners “legitimate” and then proceeded to graciously vote against them. Kathy Voskuil much like the other two, also put greater stock into the plan commission's recommendations than the nearby homeowners.

But it ain't over yet. From the rumbling noises coming from the newspaper's community, those homeowners had better prepare for another line of defense to protect whatever it is they believe in. Live united.


Yuri said...


Where do you think the line should be drawn between what is important to the community in terms of its economic growth as well as promoting environment that is friendly to new businesses (I presume you consider that important) and on the other hand balancing the concerns of the neighbors? When is it the right of a business to succeed or fail based on their business plan vs the right of the neighbors to control what businesses are opened near them? This was one of the most difficult decisions I've had to make on the council and I would like to hear your take.


Lou Kaye said...

Lines shouldn't be drawn. This shouldn't have been business against the residents with the council stuck in the middle. The entrepreneurs worked on this a whole year year and wasted their time and your time because - and I'm assuming here - they did not do the early exploratory work by approaching the closest 25 homeowners and getting their position. They must of had an inkling things weren't right because instead they tried to finesse their way in by using government. Sometimes that works - but not always. As long as there remains folks who believe business and jobs can only be created at the expense of others - we (not myself, but the entire political spectrum) will be at odds. In this particular case, trampling the rights of opposing (nearby) citizens simply because a business wants to enter is morally wrong. A city council that defends those rights should be held in the highest regard by honest business folks because when their time comes before the council, they know their position will be dealt with just as fairly. But if third party sources (like the newspaper) paint this as an anti-business proposition, third parties like myself will oppose.

Yuri said...


It is my understanding that there were meetings between the residents and the investors.

The question remains: at what point do you say that the rights of the business prevail or that the interests of the nearby homeowners win out? Unless you say that whoever was there first always wins. In which case, the property's been zoned for this type of a development for decades.

What I keep saying is this: it is a difficult situation where at best one side will feel disappointed with the decision makers. At the same time the council is concerned about balancing economic development with quality of life for the residents. That's why you get 4-3 and sometimes 3-3 decisions.

Also, as much as I appreciate having another voice speaking on important issues in our community besides the Gazette, just because Gazette says something, it does not require you to disagree with the position they take, does it?

Finally, you are always welcome to come and speak at the next Council meeting. It would be great to have somebody who does not live right next to the proposed location come and voice their opposition to this project, or support the residents who live there.

Lou Kaye said...

Investor meetings with the residents prior to anything else are crucial. The residents position at that stage should mean more than the council's. The zoning was not specifically for a 2AM tavern with an outdoor volley ball court. I think the residents would have spoken in support of a business with regular hours and sober customers, but I don’t know that for sure.

But the moment the investors realized they didn't have welcoming support for their particular business plans, they should have told the property owner, "you know Mister Schwartz, there are at least five homeowners who are busting a gut over our tavern plans, we don’t feel confortable to pursue this location any further, sorry." Since they were engaged as you say, somewhere along the line they made the decision to press on anyways and put the council in the middle.

As far as the Gazette goes about implying I oppose them just to do it? That’s entertaining. You must not be a regular reader of my blog otherwise you would know weeks and weeks fly by without any rebuttal on Gazette editorials or articles. Believe it or not, I’ve got better things to do. It has much less to do with opposition and more to do with the issues. The newspaper in that regard is a single entity or person voicing their opinion much like you and I right now. Why does their opinion carry any different weight? Because they buy ink by the barrel? Are they trying to influence their subscribers? Do they have any more right to an audience than anyone else?

Instead of publishing their positions on city matters, tell them the same thing you wrote here and in the Messenger in August. Tell the Gazette editors to engage the city council directly and show up in person on each issue they have a position on. They can alternate speakers with their editorial staff. Same goes for their anonymous column, blog postings, comments and polls. Otherwise, their opinions mean little. The point is, they don't live next door to the development either AND never address the council in person – unless it effects them directly like the time change issue. But they don’t hesitate to publish positions advocating a political position. I wonder why that is? Suggest to the editors it would be great to have somebody who does not have a thing to do with the immediate circumstances on the proposed location to come in and voice their opposition or support just like they did in their editorial. That ought to go over real well.

Yuri, I hope my responses were adequate for your questions. Thanks for your curiosity and visit.

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