Monday, December 19, 2011

ISLAND BUSINESS INCUBATOR PROJECT HALTED



Proposed Island Business Incubator in
architect's rendering, looking north.   Remodeled
cheese factory / chalet is in foreground.
Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Consider this scenario for Washington Island:

Your township’s population hasn’t changed by more than 25 residents, up or down, in over 40 years.   The main township industry is tourism, with a very small amount of fishing and farming.   Citizens and property owners have scratched their collective head to come up with business ideas that might infuse their community with jobs and help the local economy.  

Along comes a rather unique proposal made not by government, but by an island property owner, a seasonal resident with an architectural business in Chicago who would like to build an incubator for small business. 

Problems occur when this individual applies to get the required zoning permits, and even when he attempts to obtain straightforward, timely answers to his questions.  His proposal would cost the town citizens nothing, and as owner he hopes only that his model business incubator becomes self sufficient in order to pay property taxes and insurance, and sustain itself over time.

What community, especially an island community with maybe an even narrower set of economic opportunities than a similar mainland community, would not like to see such an effort, at no risk to its citizens?

What governmental zoning or planning code, through its respective administrators, would not accommodate such an idea by making every effort to assist in bringing it about?

Not a fictional proposal!

Scott Sonoc, along with his wife Marsha Williams, recently announced by letter to those who had shown support for their ideas, that they would be “…cancelling the Incubator Project for Washington Island…”   
In his letter, Scott cited reasons for cancelling their project that he says point to an ineffective county process for filing and obtaining necessary permits.

In August, Washington Island Ferry Line Board of Directors invited Scott and Marsha as guests in order learn more details about their project.  At that time, preliminary plans for an Island Business Incubator had been drawn to compliment a newly remodeled, former island cheese factory (also referred to as the Chalet after remodeling in the 70s by former owner Thorsten Williamson).  The project location is the property at the NW corner of Range Line and Town Line Roads, which is the physical center of Washington Island.  

The Ferry Line's Board expressed support for Sonoc's Business Incubator idea, believing it to be the best and most practical for island economic development heard to date.

The cheese factory/chalet had stood vacant and on the market for some 30 years prior to Sonoc's purchase.  It had several broken windows and the shake roof needed replacement.  Sonoc, who enjoys the challenges and satisfaction of remodeling and improving usefulness of old structures, making changes that reflect local culture, had remodeled the building to comply with Wisconsin commercial codes.  


Compliance includes elevator to second
floor of chalet, Washington Island's first lift.



While purpose and tenants for the remodeled building have not yet been fully determined, the cheese factory building can serve multiple purposes including small conferences and catered events such as weddings.   Office and display space will also be provided.  

Sonoc then examined the possibility of providing further space, small workspaces that might encourage new businesses, to be made available to artisans, to producers of locally grown/made products that could then be marketed regionally, nationally, or internationally.   He used as a model the excess space in the building his architectural firm owns in Chicago. There, artisans are tenants, and their synergy has further led to individual success stories with expanded business in new locations.

Sonoc’s vision was to build a second structure adjacent to the cheese factory and divide it into suites for multiple occupants, thus providing a variety of businesses with reasonably priced space, a place for island artisans to work.   Advantages with such a building can be found in the access to shared equipment and space.   Examples:  a conference room for business meetings;  an approved commercial kitchen for food processing; common restroom facilities; common mechanicals along with building maintenance supervision.   Such an incubator could bring projected activities, including those who may be artists, from private kitchen, garage or basement into a public space where they might share ideas and grow as businesses.


Rendering of remodeled chalet as viewed SE toward Town Line
and Range Line Road intersection.  As island property owners
for fifteen years, "We are willing to risk our own money to try out
this (incubator) idea," Sonoc stated.


Sonoc's plan comes from a sincere desire to see people succeed and improve their lives.  In its details were many positives. 

From the onset, however, Sonoc said he ran into roadblocks at Door County zoning and planning, and in the end, his frustration ultimately ended pursuit of the project, citing Door County’s negligence and incompetence, where the Planning Department works as "enforcers" rather than "encouragers."  



The following are some of the problems Sonoc ran up against, condensed, as outlined in his letter to interested supporters:

1.          *   Letters were sent, Planning Department personnel were contacted, but responses to questions were slow in coming and when they were received, answers were simply not forthcoming, “…even after six months from our first meeting.”

2.          *   Construction drawings were prepared by Sonoc by the end of June 2011, but due to the need to rezone, issues of parking could not be addressed.  The parking issues were never resolved.
3.     Sonoc could not obtain answers as to “…what is permitted and what is not in an MC zoning district and what the requirements will be.”

4.        *    The Zoning Administrator stated that “…we must obtain multiple zoning permits, one for each ‘use’ in the building, instead of a single zoning permit for one ‘Principal Use,’ as stated in the Zoning Ordinance.”  

This last point was appealed by County Board Supervisor Joel Gunnlaugsson on behalf of the project.  The decision was then reversed by the Zoning Dept.   Following this reversal, Door County wrote Sonoc to advise him that in the future he ought not to have anyone, including County Supervisors, intervene on his behalf.

Other points were made:

·      The County Manager informed Sonoc that “…we cannot submit our site/building drawings for a zoning permit, until our property is rezoned from Gen. Ag. to Mixed Commercial, for the Incubator.  This is contrary to common development practices, because it is necessary to determine the governmental requirements for a proposed building project, especially those requirements that affect the project costs.  In some cases, projects do not go forward once specific government requirements for the project are identified." 

·      A personal fitness-exercise training and dance instruction studio would require “Conditional Use Permits” because these have been decided to be “Fitness Center” uses, not ‘”Personal Service” uses.

·      Parking spaces, according to the Planning Director, for both the Incubator and the adjoining Chalet, may not be shared to reduce the overall size of the shared parking lot.  The Planning Director, according to Sonoc, used his/her discretion to make this decision.  

·      An intended Incubator business that would promote ‘Internet art/poster/book sales’ use needs a “Conditional Use Permit” because this use has been decided to be a “Wholesale” use, rather than “Retail” use. 

·      Sonoc said he was cautioned that “…the Zoning permit expires for any and every use in the building that is not established within the first year or any single use that is discontinued for more than 18 months, in which case a new zoning permit application must be re-submitted for each use that is not operating in the building. “     Supposedly, this determination is because the Zoning Ordinance does not specifically cover a single building with multiple uses, and the Planning Director has discretion to make this decision. 

·      Sonoc was informed that the Planning Director and the Zoning Administrator stated they would not correspond with him via email, but only by regular mail.  This, Sonoc noted, causes “…extended time delays between questions and answers…”    He added that normal response time he experienced from the Planning Department back to him was “…2.5 to 3 weeks…”

·      Sonoc outlined actual costs incurred for Planning Department permits related to the proposed Business Incubator for Washington Island, and the possible fees totaled $2,850.   These were aside from any legal, survey, architectural fees that he incurred along the way.

·      To appeal the “…at least 8 unresolved issues…” would require fees of $3,600, according to Sonoc, and that he might also be required to pay for additional island on-site visits by the Zoning Administrator, at a possible $134.30 per visit, based on mileage and ferry fee.   
     [As a personal note, I inquired about this fee in November with the Planning Department and was assured that although the ability to assess the fee exists, there is no intention ever to assess such a fee, nor has the Department ever relied on this fee.  Nevertheless, it exists.]
 
Will Door County provide clarification?   

It is hard to read such a letter as Sonoc's and not become upset, confused, and to want to ask further questions of our County government and its processes.   

We have no reason to doubt Scott Sonoc’s intentions or his sincerity.  He has shown himself in his dealings to be a man of his word, to be forthright.

As an owner of multiple properties, he is not a “developer” in the traditional sense, but instead he’s one who revitalizes old structures, seeking to improve what already exists.   He’s shown a deep understanding and respect for Washington Island’s past, as well as its future.   Through his remodeling and construction projects over a ten-year period of time - including fencing for pastureland - Sonoc has employed islanders and provided them with opportunity at a time when work has been scarce.

What happened to cause such a breakdown in County customer services?   Has this Island Business Incubator stalled through administrative entrenchment, the defense of institutional turf over public good?   Are there other, reasonable explanations for why this project cannot get approvals?

In follow-up correspondence, Sonoc wrote:
 
   “We believe that the County needs to revamp the way it … conducts its business with the citizens of Door County…We are fearful that with any project we undertake, including the Incubator, the County will come back and say something that will cause us to have to spend more time and more money whenever they choose to do so, simply because they can… We sincerely believe the County is an unsafe place to operate a business! …It is the sum of the bad experiences with Door County Government that has created our lack of trust in the County.”

Can common sense prevail for community advancement?   Will the sum of poor experiences cause others to shy away from progressive ideas?

We hope Sonoc’s project isn't dead and done.  But underlying his specific problems is the more confounding obstacle: the manner in which project planning is conducted within Door County.

Door County’s Zoning and Planning institutions, which citizens depend upon to be fair and consistent and lead to a positive future, require close examination by both its citizens and its elected officials.   Worthy projects, some greater, some lesser in scope than the Island Business Incubator will face a similar uphill climb if changes in process aren't considered.
    
Chalet exterior, remodeling in progress.  12/19/11


-  Dick Purinton    

Upper floor banquet / conference area indicates quality of chalet remodel.  12/19/11 




28 comments:

Dave said...

Thanks, Dick, for this clear telling of what now is near a tragedy, especially for the Island. I have tried to encourage Scott and Marsha and applauded their and Joel's efforts to turn county officials and bureaucrats from enforcers to facilitators. I took the liberty of sending Myles Dannhausen and Warren Bluhm your blog address with the idea that they might find new interest in a story so far mostly neglected by the papers of record in Door Cty. I hope too that others on the Island will join their voices to yours and Joel's, and fight for what the Island is being denied for no good reason.

Bill Tobey said...

It sounds like some Door County public servants are a tad out of step with the county's stated Mission and Vision:

From the Door County Government website:

The Mission of Door County Government

Protect the people, economic vitality, and environment of Door County and enable its people to build productive communities, families and lives. Deliver all county services and programs in a respectful, professional manner and manage operations consistent with available human, natural and fiscal resources.

Door County Government Vision Statement

We envision a Door County government that people feel has helped make the county a better place to live. Door County government strives to be the leader in developing partnerships private and community organizations to deliver the programs and services people call for. We are a government that listens to its people, promotes a diverse and vital economy, values fiscal responsibility and enhances the natural and aesthetic qualities that have for so long made Door County a premier place to live, work, and visit.

DougHuffman said...

Is this all y'all know of the story, and you cut&paste from the same website with links to the Door County Zoning Ordinance. The process and its enabling ordinance was in place before I moved here and I believe it made Washington Island the place that I want to live out my life.

Money is the root of evil and there's plenty of it in this situation.

Good people ought to be armed as they will, with wits and Guns and the Truth.

Richard Purinton said...

This last comment is strange and aggressive in tone. Wash. Island has had zoning in place for many years, but those zoning and planning ordinances require periodic review, reasoned guidelines and reasonable people to administer them. - DP

DougHuffman said...

Thank you, Dick, for your kind words. My tone was intended so.

Washington Island committed to Door County Zoning for not being able to afford the expertise or expense of our own zoning ordinance. Since, we have used administrative means to fulfill our peculiar zoning overlay needs. We are committed to the County process.

Laws and ordinances are how our predecessors speak to us of what they thought right and proper, and are how we will speak to successive generations. They are reasoned and deliberated by the bodies charged with legislating and administering them. The administrators are, in my experience, most reasonable. I imagine most would find them careful bureaucrats, that's what we pay them for. There are administrative and judicial appeals available to the abiding.

Among the administrators of the planning and zoning process are our neighbors, that voluntarily took up heavy burdens of public animus for honoring our predecessors lawful words despite unseemly unspoken pressures.

It appears fortunate that I was trained, present and able to uphold the process proprieties as I saw them and within the bounds of statute and ordinance.

Merry Christmas.

Doug Huffman
Washington Island
Wisconsin

Michael J. said...

Dear Dick,

I am very deeply grieved to read the latest entry in you blog. http://www.ferrycabinnews.blogspot.com/2011/12/island-business-incubator-project.html

I’m afraid that you are being very clearly and unequivocally misled by the misinformation you obtaining from the so-called grieved party in this matter. This is grossly unfair to a very dedicated staff that has bent-over- backwards to try to comply with this party…to the point of exhaustion and exasperation.

Suffice it to say that whenever this project moves forward or stops will be entirely up to the developer. Our good people have done all that they can to accommodate him, as we do to everyone who wants to do things according to the rules and regulations that Door county has in place.

I have sent to your email account the Department response to the points made by the developer. Please feel free to publish them if you so choose.

Best wishes for a very good New Year.

Mike Serpe
Administrator, County of Door
421 Nebraska Street
Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235
Telephone: (920)746-2303
Facsimile: (920)746-2339
Email: mserpe@co.door.wi.us

Richard Purinton said...

I appreciate your responses Administrator Mike, and the separately attached ream of correspondence you forwarded associated with this project history.

I understand there will be no further movement from Door County, and none that is required by law, according to the correspondence.

However, in the end, by answering letter for letter, question for question, Door County did not get the job done, other than to obfuscate through attempts to clarify, and it seems from this more distant vantage point that pat answers alone won't create solutions.

Sometimes it also appears more convenient, and righteous, to stand behind so-called iron clad ordinances than to find ways to resolve issues.

You believe Door County has gone the extra mile; but the project has been dropped. Washington Island and Door County are losers for not finding a way forward. - DP

Michael J. said...

Dick,
I think that a reasonable person might deduct from all of the correspondence that the applicant had no real intention of doing his projects on any other than his own terms.
The applicant was given every opportunity to see his projects see the light of day. The only "iron clad" rules he was asked to follow were the same ones that have been used to guide the tremendous amount of development that this county has seen in the past twenty years.
If you take the time to follow the paper trail that is in the public record, you can only come to one conclusion. Door County's Planning and Zoning Department knocked itself out trying to accommodate this party and all to no avail.
I'm at a loss as to how you or anyone else expects each and every issue to be decided as if no rules are in place or if they are that they are all only advisory.
You have relied on the law yourself and with much success. You should expect fair and equitable treatment in these matters, regardless of the size of your purse.
You're darn right when you say that I believe that Door County has gone the extra mile. Whenever entrepreneurs in the Town of Washington or any other political subdivision in Door County seek to embark on ventures they will find willing advisers in County government as well as well as DCEDC.
Regards,
Mike Serpe

Chuck Sena said...

Dick,

Is it possible for you to publish a follow-up that includes the information provided by Administrator Serpe?

As someone who would like to eventually retire to Washington Island a Business Incubator facility might enable me to make that transition sooner rather than later.

In theory it sounds a like a progressive idea that would benefit the Island community - and by extension all of Door County. Indeed, the incubator project appears to conform to almost all of the Seven Strategies of the Door County Economic Development Corporation. The following is from the DCEDC website:

"The Seven Strategies:

1 - Develop programs and initiatives that raise the education and skill level of the future workforce; design programs that attract new workers to Door County; and encourage programs that explore the full utilization of older workers.

2 - Expand economic development around key existing clusters and business concentrations that have demonstrated market opportunities.

3 - Tap into the early retiree, visitor and seasonal resident communities as sources of new businesses in Door County. Create a good business climate and business infrastructure to attract people 50+ who will continue to work at their current occupation or establish new business careers.

4 - Develop strategies that expand off-season business activity to reduce the seasonality of Door County’s business cycle.

5 - Form economic development strategies around emerging demographic and economic trends that create market opportunities for existing and new businesses.

6 - Address common economic development base needs that will support the economic strategies listed above and the general Door County business community. Move to a New Economy model that includes and supports seed capital formation, higher educational attainment, new business start-ups, networking, and technology infrastructure and technology/innovative product flow.

7 -Attract younger families to reside in Door County using the high quality of education and life and the completion of the four lane Highway 57 project as prime advantages of raising a family in Door County."

I find it ironic that Administrator Serpe - an Ex-Officio Director of the DCEDC - is defending a process that has resulted in the abandonment of a project that seems to fit very well with the professed strategies of that organization.

However, we readers are only hearing one side of the story. In order to reach an informed conclusion about the reasonableness of the County's response and to help use this as a lesson for potentially making changes going forward it would be helpful to have the full context.

Chuck

DougHuffman said...

Write to County Administrator Serpe that did not include permission to promulgate the files.

I note that the Door County Zoning Ordinance is on-line here

http://map.co.door.wi.us/planning/ with various forms.

Additionally, the Wisconsin Zoning Board Handbook by Lynn Markham and Rebecca Roberts of UWSP CLUE

http://www4.uwsp.edu/cnr/landcenter/Publications/BOA2006/BOA2006.pdf

cites Wisconsin Statutes and case law that enable and guide zoning and its administration.

During the instigation of this controversy some years ago a correspondent advised that W.I. Planning Committee members must be qualified and vetted for the post.

Here, the zoning ordinance, handbook and statutes, are the fundamental readings.

Richard Purinton said...

It appears there is interest in this topic as the responses above indicate, in defense of actions by Door County and in support of the applicant, Scott Sonoc, and also a few emails or mentions in private emails that will not appear here. ** Chuck makes good points, considerations he and others might make in judging the island and Door County. Is this just one applicant's troubles based on unreasonable expectations, or has the County stood firm on its ordinances and codes, offering all assistance available under the guidelines of their jobs? It would still seem to me that the Island, which needs all the help it can get, has come up a loser in this one. Is it possible those who read and adhere to all the fine print, and maybe even use it occasionally as a shield for projects they may not favor, "..have their head up their arse.." as one friend described it?
Administrator Serpe has given permission to use the County's file of correspondence, but due to the number of pieces and length of letters, and the inability to simply furnish a link here, I will provide the file if you wish to contact me at the Ferry Line website, which is info@wisferry.com I don't wish to publish your private email here, and prefer not to publish mine, not to continue this subject discussion, but for all the extraneous emails I already receive and may receive. ** Here are a few questions I don't know the answers to: Would changing zoning of a piece of property allow for a business incubator? Has Door County taken the steps necessary to create a business incubator as a permitted use? (I believe this was begun, according to the correspondence, but then was dropped for some reason.) ** If I were a potter, for instance, who made pots in a space I rented in an incubator, could I not also sell my pots at a counter in the same space? (I believe this currently is looked upon as two separate and distinct uses, requiring two permits for the same space...I would have to choose between either making or selling.) ** Door County laws may be accurately enforced (you need 2 1/2 more trees and three more parking spaces, but only if you do thus and thus) but there are missing elements to getting the project off dead-center. Would this have made any difference if it was a community project, sponsored or endorsed by the Island Economic Development Committee, with public funds rather than private funds? How much of the back-and-forth Q&A was fueled by "institutional memory" of prior permit applications for totally unrelated projects. Who knows? *** Send your email request to info@wisferry.com if you wish to read the whole bloody file. They are public documents. - DP

Dave said...

It would be helpful to all concerned if Mike Serpe would explain in specific terms how County Planning and Zoning office "knocked itself out" and went the "extra mile" to "accommodate" efforts to build the Island Incubator. I would think a reasonable person would gladly and simply explain just what county employees did, especially when other reasonable people could easily conclude that the decision to not build the incubator-after much was invested, and knowing that many Islanders were looking forward to it being built--was made for good reasons.

What Mr. Serpe has done instead is assert that anyone who doesn't see all this as he and they do just doesn't understand, or has been misled by those who he suggests don't want to "play by the rules". If anyone has made a mistake in all this--according to Mr. Serpe--it couldn't be anyone in the employe of county government. Really?

The truth is that some in county government act not nearly as concerned with accommodating and advising as they do asserting control by enforcing their interpretation of rules that often are not at all clear (and sometimes don't even exist), and then demanding people trust their supposed expertise. The proof of this is how projects like the incubator and others are made to labor--needlessly costing some projects wasted time and money. Is the county a better place for all this laboring? Obviously not in the case of the Island Incubator. Others should come forward with their own stories of similar struggles with local government, and would but for fear of reprisals; which are known to happen.

Sure, there's been lots of development in the county the last twenty or so years--and some of it very questionable--but exactly what economic development has DC government facilitated on the Island in the last twenty years?

Had the Island Incubator been a stepchild of the DCEDC (instead of a privately initiated and funded project), it would be interesting how differently the whole thing would have been “accommodated” by the powers that be....

Anonymous said...

AS is often the case in modern America, a growing bureaucracy can get in the way of common sense. I would urge Scott to make another run at this and, at the same time, we all should try to mobilize public opinion. Terry Foster

Robert said...

All one needs to do is drive by the Chalet and see the number of vehicles parked outside on an early January day to have the most basic understanding of the economic impact to the community (and the county) of projects such as this. This building, with the exception of some early 70's renovation and some minimal attempts at short term occupation has essentially sat empty since 1962. Fifty years. If Scott and Marsha, by spending their own money, do nothing more than improve a vacant building,improve currently unused property, increase the value of the property (and therefore the Island and County tax base), employ a fair number of individuals for a number of YEARS, I guess that is an indication to the county bureaucracy that they had no intention of following through on the project?

If the building they have renovated and the building they propose sit vacant for another 50 years the community is out what? If the plan is successful, the community gains what? Perhaps the ability to apply logic is no longer an important factor in decision making.

Agency funding should be based on justification of action and the taxpayer's return on investment in such agencies should be based on ROI. ROI should be determined based on benefit to the community....employment both current and possible and tax base improvement would be two not minimal measures.

Heidi Gilbertson said...

Let’s set aside the "who’s right/who’s wrong" debate as far as the door county planning/zoning issues and focus on who loses when a business incubator project is shut down in a place where so many struggle to have work for most of the year. We, as permanent (as in, we live here all year long) residents of Washington Island, lose opportunity and possibility. Just think of how many jobs might have been. Each business allowed to unfold its wings within the cocoon of a business incubator could have provided at least one job, but over time could have grown into 2 or 3 or, really, the sky is the limit. There is so much talent and creative energy on this island. The proposed incubator would have allowed many of us to fully develop and implement our ideas, with the support of some really knowledgeable and talented business minds. Success is ours for the taking. We need to find a way to get past the ideas and biases that keep us locked in stagnation. We need to find ways to attract young families, with jobs and a healthy school system, to support our hard-working and dedicated school faculty and staff. This in turn helps support our town crew, our firefighters and EMT’s. Our grocery store and post office. And on, and on. We all work for each other. That’s what keeps a community alive, working together for the common good.

“Business incubators not only assist the businesses to become well-established and sustainable, but also nurture them to survive and grow during the startup period. Incubators provide 20 times more jobs than any other community infrastructure projects at a cost of $144 to $216 per job as compared to the $2920 to $6872 for the latter, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration”.

I urge naysayers to look at some information from around the country on the affects business incubators have on communities. Here are just a few of the many links to start with:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/business/smallbusiness/27sbiz.html

http://www.nbia.org/

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20100501/the-best-business-incubators.html

Zuzka said...

I don’t understand all the technical difficulties. I am looking at this from a simple view of a mother living on this island. There are only few young families living here all year around. Most of us live on one person income. So if the incubator would bring 5-10 jobs to this island, that is 5-10 families that can afford to live here and more children that would go to the school. The Incubator would be just a starting point for greater things to come for all of us. The question that I ask myself is: “Will my family be able to continue to afford to live here?” Will there continue to be a school here where my kids can go? If this project would bring us a better chance to stay on this beautiful place I think we should all fight for it. One final point is that if our island economy will not permit young families to live here, who will serve the older island population in the future?

Anonymous said...

We have zoning for a reason. I am very glad that our Zoning and Planning on the Island and County has done it's best to protect the Island, to help preserve the area so many have grown to love.
I admire Sonic's dream and think it holds merit. All the options he has brought to the plate are valid and great ideas.
That said, we have a commercial center. We have a lot of commercial land for sale. I would invite Mr. Sonic to please put his efforts there and I am sure he would have had a lot less trouble in proceeding.
He is trying to put spot zoning in a residential area. People have intentionally bought homes in this area because they wanted the beauty and peace away from commercial.
Although he has great ideas, it should have been done in the commercial center.
I see this building structure is no where near any of his homes.......

Mary Cornell said...

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, there will be true peace in the world."

Rules were made to be broken my friends (or updated). Why don't you let the property owners of the Island decide if this is a good opportunity or not for THEIR Island. Put it to a vote to all property owners of the Island -- 1 vote per property parcel.

Remember, "We the people......." Let the peoples voice count.

Scott Sonoc said...

The County wants you to believe that their laws are “enforced” thoughtlessly and without judgment. They want you to believe that their laws are clear so that they have no decision making abilities and can only do what they are told to do by their laws. Let me give you just two examples showing how their laws are not clear and how the county staff is able to manipulate their decisions to suit their interests.
1) One of our prospective tenants in the Incubator told the County that they would like to sell books on the internet from the Island. Because this specific business is not listed in the County Laws, the Planning Department had to decide which of their laws this business needed to comply with. Instead of choosing their “Retail” category, they chose their “Wholesale” category so that they could charge yet another $450.00 fee from the new business owner. Isn’t a bookseller a retail business, whether it sells through a store front or over the internet?
2) The second example pertains to the old deck on the "Chalet". At the first site visit, the Zoning Administrator said there was no deck as she stood looking at all of the deck structure, doors to the deck and even a built-in fireplace on the old deck. She said there was no deck so that we would have to pay a $450.00 special variance fee. After we questioned that, the Planning Director sent a letter to us saying that a deck is there but you cannot replace any of the floor boards that are missing. Two weeks later, she reversed that decision and said that no deck existed, so that we needed to pay the $450.00 special variance fee. We questioned that and received a letter from the County Administrator saying, “The County is not required to enforce compliance. If and when the County chooses to pursue enforcement action remains at its discretion.” Zoning regulations exist, but they are only as good as the people who decide how they are to be used.
In spite of the 2 examples above, it seems to me that the County staff are saying that they are “legally bound by the ordinances” (that they create) and then try to side step their decisions by simply wanting us to all believe that this is about the “process” and the “statutes” and not about them.

Scott Sonoc

Anonymous said...

Sonoc Architects & Associates provides planning, design, architectural, management and construction administration services. Our clients' projects include commercial, industrial, institutional, residential and public infrastructure improvements. We are currently working on commercial retail centers, industrial office / manufacturing buildings, mixed-use athletic, day-care and community facilities and residential townhouse communities.

Last Updated 09.02

Jim said...

I've been an Island visitor for about 40 years. I wonder if some of the "Islanders" want to see anything that might resemble competition....if I'm wrong, why not extreme pressure from Island folks to make this proposal happen??

Cindy said...

This is the first I have seen of the drawings and vision for this perfect project brought to us by an able and beneficent couple.

My concerns are these:

Spot zoning for one and not for all will create problems for all. If changes to the zoning are desired by the community, the whole zoning plan needs to be amended/changed. I'd hate to think what the neighbors would think if the Wickman Homestead became "The Icelandic Cultural Center". It is a question of fairness to all. There is plenty of unsold commercially zoned property which has been on the market for a long time as someone else mentioned.

Are there plans in place should businesses not succeed, hence revenues would not be available to pay property taxes, utilities, etc. in an under-used facility? Who would be responsible for those bills?

Who will own the site/buildings? Is it something that could readily be sold if necessary?

Has a marketing/business plan been developed to assure the feasibility of this plan, especially in these difficult economic times?

Personally, I'd rather see a slower start, perhaps with my favorite business idea (Kitchen Coop/Cooking School), build out on the success of earlier endeavors before building the infrastructure for a much larger vision.

We know the Island is a small and connected spot. The synergy of a good economic plan with facilities does not necessarily need to be a pysically attached affair. It can be a common marketing organization, as participants stay in close communication.

Again, this is a wonderful vision and so far, implementation.

Richard Purinton said...

The island business incubator project with location adjacent to the chalet as proposed was a privately-financed project of Scott Sonoc and Marsha Williams. They would invest their dollars into a facility that could be utilized to benefit the public - the island as a whole - through the increased economic activity it would potentially bring, and in payment of property taxes they would be responsible for, and in the wider community benefit that comes from employment opportunity and personal income. The Incubator, as planned, would not acquire "non-profit" status. If a space became vacant, or the entire building for that matter, property taxes would still be owed and paid on the structure. *** As for the Town Line, Range Line intersection location, the Incubator would utilize a property that long ago had commercial use (cheese making, dairy co-op). Island development began around its harbors, and while most retail efforts today center in the current up-the-road area, there is no sewer & water, or other compelling reasons to make it an essential location, except for pointing to a model that has been promoted as THE model for island commercial development. One could argue that the character of the island is more closely exemplified by the variety of points of interest and businesses that can be discovered in "unexpected" locations. - DP

Mary Cornell said...

A few years back I was with a small group of friends touring all different kinds of establishments down the County. Strictly for entertainment purposes we started to inquire about the Island. "Hey whats there to do and see on Washington Island?" We pretty much received the same answer from each place. "Absolutely nothing, don't waste your time or money." "The same trees and roads you see here except you have to pay for a ferry ride to see them." "Uh, lets see, they have like a 3-hole Golf Course, a bar, a grocery store, and some restaurant that you have to wait in a really long line to get your food and they even have a sign that says, 'we are not fast, for fast go to Chicago'." Well, we hooted and hollared and were definately entertained. Moral of the Story: The people and businesses down the County do not promote Washington Island. They do not want the Island to take away 'their tourists.'

In regards to Scott Sonics January 6th blog: ANY business is only as good as the people that represent them. If my taxes are paying the salaries of the Zoning Administrator, Planning Director and County Administrator then I am deeply grieved. The abuse of authority is like a 'bad cop' in uniform.

Just by looking at all the businesses For Sale on the Island, it's obvious that the "Old School" way of doing things is not working. The Island needs a good shot in the arm! The Sonics are willing to invest their own private monies in an adventure that will promote growth to the Island both residentially and commercially. I say, "God Bless them." This adventure has the capability of increasing business for every existing business on the Island. More jobs = more money = more spending. If this flys, my prediction is that all those For Sale signs we now see will become a distant memory.

For those of you who doubt the character, integrity, and capability of the Sonics (whom I have never met)....simply walk through the Chalet. This is not your basic remodel....it's craftmenship at it's finest. I wonder if Island children will some day actually be able to have a Prom dance! Could you imagine that!

Richard Purinton said...

Mary - I would like to say that the attitude you point out having observed in peninsula business owners several years back has changed - or is in the process of being addressed - through efforts of the Door County Visitor Bureau. And, likewise, island business owners and anyone who lives here, for that matter, should recognize the great value, and dependence upon, the need for tourism success in the rest of Door County. It is a co-dependent relationship, and extensive marketing inside and beyond Wisconsin, and the success of Door County tourism as a whole, we would wither. ** TImes are not good for tourism, currently, whether in numbers of island visitors or dollars spent per visitor. As a location that admittedly takes additional time and expense and initiative to visit, Washington Island's economy loses perhaps earlier and more often among those who still make up the current tourism pool. We need to work harder, therefore, to achieve numbers that are less than we'd like to see. For those who have taken the ferry, that extra step and expense required to visit Washington Island, we firmly believe we can make their experience one that will be memorable, positive and one they would like to extend or repeat. ** Ideas such as Scott Sonoc's Business Incubator help broaden the effort to provide genuine experiences and products, employing people in ways that might not be as heavily dependent upon the day visitor. That's a good direction to go, especially when it has low-impact on the island community and infrastructure (don't like that word, but I think we know what it means.) - DP

connie essig said...

"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come".
A favorite saying of mine by Victor Hugo. He certainly was right in this case.
This is an extremely generous gift that Scott and Marcia have offered. Any other town or city would be offering tif money just to get such a facility. I know that the town where I grew up would hire a band, have a town potluck and rename Main Street to read "Scott and Marcia Boulevard".

Paul Swanson said...

Hi Dick,

In reading all the articles associated with this project and then reading Mike Serpe's response.

One sentence comes to mind, Government not living in the real world.

The only way this project is going to move forward is with the support of our elected leaders. I spoke with Joel this weekend and for this to change the County Board will need to make these changes.

Please keep in mind this is the same County Government that showed Dick Burres the door in a very unprofessional way after 37 years of service.

Thank you for all you do Dick.

Regards,

Paul Swanson

Robert Herbst said...

I’m saddened by the news that this project has been abandoned. My wife and I have been looking for a way to escape Chicago and move to Washington Island for several years. We had genuine hope that this Incubator project might provide us with faith that a move to the island could be a viable one. The economies of scale that this project would offer artisans, of all varieties, could turn seemingly risky ventures into profitable ones.

I understand that zoning rules are in place for very good reasons. I’m not sure I would want to live in a community without them. However, one’s tone in enforcing these rules is almost as important as the rules themselves. I am a landowner on the island and have developed some shyness in building. This shyness pertains directly to the permit process and the “on the street” opinion that the process in Door County can be prickly and unpredictable. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant. This opinion of the county office has a chilling effect on commerce.

I truly hope that there might be a cooling off period and that the county could make an overture to get this project going once again. This is such a great opportunity and investment for the future of the island. We believe so strongly in this project that my wife and I would be willing to contribute towards the permit fees. At the very least, I hope the county can use this episode and with some introspection devise a way to make the process simpler, predictable and commerce friendly.

Mr. Sonoc: Thank you to you and your wife for your continued generous support of Washington Island over the years. I think I speak for many that the time and support you have offered the island is not lost on us. We are grateful for your generosity. Thank you.

PS. Mr Purington – I’ve only recently discovered your blog and enjoy it immensely. Thank you for posting.