No Easy Answers For Minocqua Plan Commission, Displays, Food Trucks

Apr 13, 2018

Downtown Minocqua
Credit Wikimedia Commons Freekee

MINOCQUA -- The Minocqua Plan Commission entered into unchartered waters this week when they took up a request to place portable storage buildings -- but no office or sales personnel -- on a rented parcel south of the Island of Minocqua. Later, they took up the matter of food trucks plying their trade on the Island. Again, there was no map for the commissioners to follow in making a recommendation to the town board.

In the past, transient food trucks have not been allowed in Minocqua. After some discussion, the plan commission approved the administrative review permit requested by James Carey to display the accessory buildings at 7714 Highway 51 S, Minocqua. They include utility sheds, garages, barns and cabins. He is renting the property from Lynn Trapp of Woodruff. There are no sales people on site. Carey, a distributor for the Athens-based North Star Portable Buildings, told the commission he places printed material in the structures that asks potential customers to either call him or visit his website. The display models for the most part remain there as customers are shipped their products from another location. He has 10 similar locations elsewhere in the state, including Door County.

“It’s not a fly-by-night company,” he said. Nor has he received opposition in other municipalities to the unmanned displays, he added. “Nothing against you personally,” town chairman Mark Hartzheim told Carey, adding he was confident that Carey was a good business person and had quality products. But he had concerns. “It ends being sort of a portable advertising location if it’s unmanned,” he said.

Hartzheim also wanted “a level playing field” for established businesses that have employees and other overhead expenses. He also questioned whether the town wanted that pattern of business development of unmanned products displayed outdoors. “If you do open the door, you almost have to leave it open ... what’s the next thing that’s going to be displayed on a vacant lot by an absentee business?” he asked. About five dealers of manufactured homes, interjected commissioner Mark Pertile, the town’s director of public works. Commissioner Joe Hegge suggested forwarding the request without a recommendation to the town board, which would set some guidelines on such businesses. But Hartzheim wanted the commission to make a recommendation one way or the other.

The board finally agreed to issue the requested permit, but stipulated Carey has to maintain an office with restrooms for the public on the premise. The motion to approve did not list any on-premise staff hours. County zoning director Karl Jennrich said he will run the proposal past the county’s corporation counsel to see if the unattended displays could be constructed as advertising, i.e. an off-premise sign, which would be prohibited by county statutes. 

In the food truck matter, the commission took no action as it was listed for discussion only on the meeting agenda. Hartzheim questioned allowing food trucks in Minocqua, especially in the downtown area. Again, he believes transient operations such as food trucks unfairly compete against existing restaurants that are property taxpayers and for the most part, operate year-round. “In Minocqua, merchants hope for eight strong weeks in the summer (depending on weather) and the rest of the year is often an economic struggle,” he said in follow-up remarks e-mailed to this reporter. One local downtown restaurant representative advised commissioners they should be looking at issues such as disposal of wastewater, sanitation requirements, proper refrigeration of food, etc., in regards to food trucks. Commissioners were more open to allowing food trucks at special events, but off the Island. Hartzheim said he would run the food truck issue past the Krystal Westfahl, executive director of the Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce, for her take on it. Commissioners will also be reviewing ordinances and similar regulations from other towns on food trucks. Public comments about allowing food trucks can be sent to the office secretary at the Minocqua town offices.

In other actions, the panel voted to approve an administrative review permit for Bradley Ort, to sell furniture products and home décor at 8664 Ranchwood Road. Doing business as Eichenholz Amish Furniture. Ort is relocating his current business to the new address, zoned Business B-2. A sign permit that he requested was also approved. Also approved was a sign permit for Dewey Catchen and How Bait Shop to be located at the former Popov’s store, 8650 Highway 51 N. The owner of the property is Jeflin LLC, of Woodruff, with the agent being Jeff Bolander, of Woodruff. Commissioners also forwarded to the town board with a recommendation for approval a 2-lot subdivision request by the Russel Morris Trust. The property is off Schroeder Road on Squirrel Lake.