New Berlin - An idea that might bring a community space and even the New Berlin Farmers Market to the New Berlin City Center just cleared its first hurdle.

The city plan commission decided last week that a PDQ gas station/convenience store is indeed allowed under city center zoning, even though automotive uses such as car repair are not.

A community space might be a concert or even a fundraising event venue, one official said.

If there is enough room, the area could become the new home of the New Berlin Farmers Market, said Mike Skupien, who runs the market for the New Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau. The market is at capacity at the New Berlin Police Department parking lot. Also, customer parking is often difficult.

Would it work?

"Six years ago when we moved to the police department lot, I said the city center would be a great place for the market," Skupien said. "I believe truly the farmers market would be an asset in the city center."

However, he doesn't know if the area in question is big enough.

"I would have to see the dimensions," Skupien said. In any case, the chamber's board of directors would have to approve any move. Before approving, the board would have to know whether the landowner would charge rent to the market.

The area under consideration is the southeast corner of National Avenue and Michelle Witmer Memorial Drive.

Room for Christmas

What plan commissioners saw as an advantage to the PDQ proposal is that the business would occupy part of the land the owner wants to develop and leave the rest free. That is essential for the land owner who wants to keep selling Christmas trees there.

It remains uncertain as to whether PDQ will survive the normal city approval process. For example, if there is a proposal to divide the land into a PDQ portion and a tree/community space portion, the gas station wouldn't be as far away from the street as city zoning requires, the city staff report notes. Also, pavement, parking and circulation are proposed for the adjacent lot, which would not be permitted under a land division, the report says.

Now that PDQ has an opinion that a gas station/convenience store is allowed under city center zoning, PDQ officials will decide whether it can work out acceptable plans.

Zoning critical

The zoning question was unclear because  “general automotive” uses are not allowed under the city center zoning, but it isn't spelled out what the prohibited general automotive uses are.

"It dances around but doesn't talk about gas stations," said Mayor Dave Ament. "We couldn't tell, so we took it to the plan commission."

Automotive uses that are prohibited in the city center zoning are service and repair, rental and sales. Fuel sales are not included in the list of prohibited uses. Gas stations are allowed in the business zoning that underlies the city center zoning.

"Nowhere in the PUD (city center zoning) or in the code is it prohibited," said Alderman Joe Stribl who sits on the plan commission. "It is an acceptable use."

Pluses seen

Not only is it acceptable, but the PDQ project sounds beneficial because it would add to the tax base while leaving enough room for the Christmas tree sales and perhaps for the farmers market, he said.

"Bringing the farmers market would complete that area," Stribl said.

The proposed PDQ also would have distinctive architecture, featuring a clock tower.

"It would not be a normal PDQ," he said.

The PDQ would be more of a convenience store than a gas station, Ament said. Gas sales would be only 30 percent of its business, while convenience store sales would account for 70 percent, he said.

What's proposed

The retail operation  would include a delicatessen with made-to-order sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, onsite fresh made bakery, beer and wine, and gourmet brewed coffee, Daniel Bertler, PDQ Food Store Inc. representative, and owner of Supreme Structures Inc., wrote to the city. In addition, hundreds of grocery items would be offered, including daily needs items such as milk, bread, fruit, snacks, assorted beverages and ice, he wrote.

The gas station would have 10 fuel islands and 28 parking stalls for customers and employees.

With the store planned for in front along National, the view of much of the gas station canopy would be blocked for eastbound cars stopped at the stoplight at Michelle Witmer Memorial Drive, he wrote.

In addition he wrote: "We are proposing a vibrant art piece that would be lit at night to create interest in the day and night time. This is adjacent to a patio."

The site is designed with pedestrians and bicycle riders in mind, he wrote. There would be a covered bike rack with sidewalk connections to the patio and food store, he wrote.

Walker, biker friendly

Pedestrians could walk through a short-grass prairie area at the south corner of the site, enjoying the view of the library and adjacent areas with a bench near the top, Bertler wrote. Visitors can enjoy a patio area, which may be programmed for small events, he added.

If the area remaining would be big enough for the farmers market, Ament agreed that the city center would be a perfect home for the market.

"It would be in the center of our population," he said. The city center connects with walking trails, there is senior and multi-family housing nearby and two large subdivisions north and south of there, he said.

The PDQ could bring traffic to the area and to the market, he said.

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