U-Haul Moving and Storage of Kenosha will need to tweak its design of the exterior and parking lot surrounding the former Walmart store on 52nd Street before receiving a conditional use permit from the city.

The Kenosha Plan Commission held an initial hearing on U-Haul’s proposal to build out the interior of the building with approximately 900 self-storage units Thursday afternoon during its regular meeting.

U-Haul already owns and has been using a small portion of the building at 4404 52nd St.

The company has built out approximately five similar self-storage facilities as the one proposed in Kenosha in California, Ohio, Alaska, Illinois and Nebraska so far this year. The facilities can house anywhere from 592 self-storage units such as the one in Lincoln, Neb., to 1,000 self-storage units like the one in Woodland, Calif., according to the company.

Along with the interior self-storage units, U-Haul was also seeking to upgrade the front of the building with windows and areas of corrugated metal panels. Two portions of the parking lot at the former Walmart site were also planned to be removed and restored with grass during the project, at the request of city staff.

However, the lack of green space in the parking lot in U-Haul’s current design was a major problem for commission members and Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian.

“That’s a huge parking lot,” Antaramian said. “You’re not talking about a lot of green space. One of the things before we move on, as they come back at the next meeting, is the issue of green space and how that’s going to fit into this project. There needs to be some more green space in the project.”

Antaramian also stated that, overall, he just didn’t like the look of the building as presented in the current design, a sentiment that a few other commission members voiced during Thursday’s meeting.

“As 52nd Street gets redone over time, we want something that’s going to be a little more … it just seems that the building doesn’t have much articulation to it and definitely could use some more,” Antaramian said.

Antaramian and commissioner Jan Michalski also stated that they, and the alderman whose district the U-Haul building would be in, would be more supportive of the development if its look matched that of the former Walmart that U-Haul had converted into its own facility in McHenry, Ill.

Alex Sonnleitner, of U-Haul, expressed to the commission that the original design had been identical to the McHenry building; however, when they had previously presented that design to the city, they were told to change it.

“I believe the original rendition we had mirrored that project exactly. After a couple visits working with planning and development, our first imaging, if you will, matched that. That was originally rejected based on the changes that (city staff) wanted to see, which resulted in (the current design),” Sonnleitner said.

After more comments on the look of the building by commission members Veronica Flores and Lydia Spottswood, who called the current design “bland” and “chaotic,” commissioner Dan Prozanski gave Sonnleitner two specific things to address before coming back to the commission: “soften” the landscaping in the parking lot with more green space and blend the elements better on the exterior of the building so that it doesn’t look so “busy”.

“You have to remember that 52nd Street is a gateway to the city,” Prozanski said.

Commissioner Charles Bradley, however, thanked Sonnleitner and U-Haul for purchasing the old Walmart building in the first place.

“I would assume it was not a hot item on the market. So I applaud you for purchasing that and having plans for it. I agree that maybe there can be some updates to it in terms of appearance. But you took a building that isn’t a lot to begin with and we’re asking you to make it something to our desire,” Bradley said. “… Oftentimes, we have to look at what we’re asking of people is that we want them to build it according to our desires and appearances. Sometimes we have to ask what is the feasibility of (the business’) investment. Again, I am just thanking you for taking the first step forward..”

The commission ultimately voted to defer any decision on the matter for 30 days to allow U-Haul to create a tweaked design before coming before the plan commission again for approval.

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