By Al Stanek
Whitewater Banner volunteer staff
The Whitewater Common Council amended an existing City Ordinance and created a new one that will allow alcohol to be consumed in public places including Cravath Lakefront Park but on a limited basis. Currently alcohol is not allowed in public parks without a permit. Starin Park has been, till now, the single exception to the prohibition of individual public alcohol consumption. The exclusive ability to sell and consume beer in a restricted area during the Fourth of July annual celebration has also been allowed.
The Common Council action comes in response to a request to allow individuals to purchase alcohol from vendors at the Tuesday night City Market and carry it over to the lawn of the new Cravath Lakefront Park Amphitheater for this summer’s “Concerts in the Park.” The City Market is held on Tuesday afternoons in the area of the historic Whitewater Train Depot across from City Hall. This summer the concerts are being scheduled afterward on Tuesday evenings, rather than the previous Thursdays, in Cravath Lakefront Park, which is across a small portion of Fremont Street from the Depot.
A newly created ordinance also allows the City Manager or a designee to “…authorize the sales, service, possession and consumption of alcohol on any street, sidewalk or public grounds in the City of Whitewater for a temporary period of time.”
In other action the Common Council approved the sale for $251,000 of a small city-owned parcel across the street from the new eastside Kwik Trip being constructed in the area known as “the roundabout.” The Elkhorn Road property that includes the Kwik Trip site had been designated as the site of a grocery store until the financial reaction to the 2007-2008 Great Recession. An unnamed retail establishment is reportedly planned for the triangular shaped parcel across from the Kwik Trip.
The Council also heard from City Attorney Wallace McDonell that Allef Partners, LLC, the owners of the Whitewater Walmart, are contesting its property assessment, currently set at $5,657,300. They claim that the assessed value should be $4,500,000. McDonell will attempt to reach a settlement with the owners, but was authorized by the Council to hire outside legal counsel if needed. If ultimately a settlement is not agreed upon the matter would be litigated in Walworth County Circuit Court.
It is the second time in as many years that the Walmart assessment has been contested. On July 15, 2019 Walmart sued the City of Whitewater, alleging that its property had been inappropriately assessed for 2019 at $5,970,000. Walmart claimed that the assessed value should have been $4,500,000. If it had been granted that reduction, Walmart would have been entitled to a refund of approximately $30,884, of which $9,830 would have been the city’s share after charging back the school district, the county, and the technical college for their share. The city’s legal counsel engaged in negotiations with Walmart’s counsel in an effort to reach a settlement that would avoid the substantial appraisal and legal fees that would be required for a trial. At the Common Council meeting on January 21, 2020 attorney McDonell recommended that the city settle for an assessed value of $5,657,300, which had been accepted by Walmart. This reduction in assessment would result in a refund of $6,576, with the city’s portion being $2,093. The Council voted unanimously to accept this settlement.
Owners of property where so-called “big-box” stores are located have in recent years argued that they should be assessed based on the value of a vacant store as opposed to a fully occupied facility. The WI League of Municipalities, of which the city is a member, has campaigned against the efforts of property owners using this strategy known as the “Dark Store Theory” to take municipalities to court over contested assessments. The ‘Municipal Law Newsletter’ reports that the Village of Plover won a WI Court of Appeals case last year involving the “Dark Store Theory” and the ‘Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’ reported in 2019 that a similar case in West Bend was dropped just before trial. It is not clear if the Whitewater case is based on the “Dark Store Theory.”