The city’s Public Works Committee has approved plans for a wholesale produce company’s 240,000-square-foot industrial building on property adjacent to where a Potawatomi-backed, mixed use development is also being proposed.
The committee voted 5-2 to approve a certified survey map that would allow Zilber Group developers to subdivide the property into two lots, one for the future home of Kenosha-based Heartland Produce on about 32 acres at the corner of 60th Street and 104th Avenue.
The second would accommodate Project Greeneway, on the remaining 164 acres of the former Dairyland Greyhound Park, at 5522 104th to the north and west.
Zilber aims to develop Greeneway with a 360-unit apartment complex, along with industrial buildings, a business park and retail development.
Heartland’s plans were turned down two weeks ago by the city Plan Commission, which voted 6-3 against the map as commissioners had a multitude of questions including how truck traffic would be addressed and how the industrial building’s size and footprint would be addressed as it abuts residential neighborhoods.
The Public Works Committee majority, however, favored the subdivision of property.
Ald. Dominic Ruffalo of the 16th District, where the developments are proposed to occur, said he favored Heartland’s expansion, acknowledging the company’s local presence over the years and its need to expand.
Heartland, a wholesale produce distributor in the area since 1994, is currently at 4550 70th Ave. and plans to sell its current building to move into the Zilber development.
“I’m in favor at this time to move forward with this project,” he said, after speaking with developers Monday.
Still have questions
Ald. David Bogdala, a member of the Public Works committee, said he, too, spoke to developers, but would not support the project.
“There are still too many unanswered questions,” he said and noted the unusual majority of commissioners voting down an item for that reason.
Bogdala said it didn’t mean he wouldn’t support it once the issues were resolved, as the neighborhood is anticipating development and city “would like to see Heartland expand and move into a new facility.”
“(But) not at the detriment to the surrounding neighborhood and the homes that are there and the soon-to-be apartment complex that, if this project moves forward, would be adjacent to it as well,” he said. “I hope all those issues get resolved.”
Among the issues was that the Plan Commission first heard of Heartland plans during the consideration of the certified survey map two weeks ago, despite the Greeneway plans having been in the works for months.
Building site lines and truck traffic to and from the proposed building were other issues. Bogdala is also a member of the Plan Commission.
Both Ruffalo and Bogdala met with city staff and developers earlier Monday to discuss what could be done about the concerns. Bogdala said he still needs to see what it would look like on paper.
Ald. Bruce Fox said he realized there were many questions yet to be answered, but didn’t want to halt the project at the committee level.
“I don’t want to see this die too early before a lot of the questions are answered and the developer has some say so in this and Heartland,” said Fox speaking in favor.
Complicating the matter, however, is the issue of project Greeneway’s backers – the Forest County Potawatomi, who city elected officials worry may have the right to invoke sovereign immunity as it pertains to situations where potential litigation may arise. In its simplest form, the city would have no legal recourse against a sovereign nation.
The concern was raised in May by Kenosha County Supervisor Terry Rose, who is chair of the county’s finance committee, which reviewed several incarnations of the then-Menominee Nation’s proposed casino-entertainment complex over the years.
At least one agreement required that the Menominee waive their right to invoke immunity. Rose had called on the city to require that the Potawatomi do the same.
Commission and committee members have been concerned about requiring the waiver, especially in the context of tax collection, and they want assurances in writing.
“In the initial conversations with the tribe, that does not seem to be a problem with them, so that should be included in the agreement at the appropriate time and when we get to the developer’s agreement,” Mayor John Antaramian, who chairs the Plan Commission, said at the commission’s last meeting. “If it is not there, we will not be moving forward. That’s pretty much how that will work.”
Ruffalo said his biggest concern has always been sovereign immunity, as the Potawatomi are the monetary backing for Project Greeneway.
“If they don’t sign off on that sovereign immunity (waiver) on that development, this project will not happen,” he said. “And I will make sure that the project does not happen. I am steadfast in that.”
Ruffalo, however, supports Heartland’s intention to expand.
“Why can’t they expand in the city of Kenosha? They’ve been a good partner in Kenosha. No complaints, 150 jobs, three shifts, but if that agreement doesn’t happen, I will not be for it,” he said. “Tonight, I’m a yay.”