City Brewing’s rezoning request to raze houses for employee parking advances to La Crosse Common Council

Beer Cans

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — City Brewing Co.’s rezoning request so it can raze several vacant houses for employee parking is advancing to the La Crosse Common Council after gaining approval from a second city committee Tuesday.

City Brewery

This city of La Crosse illustration shows the six vacant homes to be razed and The properties to be rezoned from multiple dwelling, light industrial and local business to heavy industrial on Jackson, Third and Fourth streets.

Accommodating increasing numbers of employees as the brewery plans a multi-million dollar expansion during the next couple of years was a factor in the gaining approval of the Judiciary and Administration Committee Tuesday and the Plan Commission Monday.

City Brewing, which an investor group recently acquired, bought the six vacant rental homes in the area and plans to convert a total of 10 lots to parking.

The properties to be rezoned from multiple dwellings, light industrial, and local business to heavy industrial are on Jackson, Third, and Fourth streets.

Asked whether City Brewing had considered other alternatives for parking, company official Bob Kegebein said its property is landlocked, relegating many of its 700 employees to street parking.

Razing the houses and building a parking lot, which the Common Council will consider May 13, “is the simplest and best solution,” said Kegebein, City Brewing’s process maintenance, and utilities manager. “We’re growing at a pretty good rate,” he said. “We’re producing the same as Heileman did in its heyday, and will grow 30 to 40 percent” in production this year, with employees reaching as many as 900 by the end of the year.

Almost 40 percent of the company’s workforce comes from outside of La Crosse, from communities such as Tomah and Viroqua, Wis., Kegebein said.

Senior City Planner Tim Acklin acknowledged that his office typically would resist replacing housing with surface parking. However, “because of the planned expansion of one of the major businesses and (increased) jobs,” the planning office approves of this proposal, partly because of attractive landscaping, Acklin said. “I think, in the end, the best result is for surface parking,” he said.

Kegebein also noted that the houses had been relatively run-down and the area, prone to crime.

The city’s police and fire departments had informed the brewery that the area in and around the houses had generated more than 200 9-1-1 calls the year before the company bought the properties.

A couple of J and A committee members expressed concerns that the plan erases affordable housing at a time when the city is short of such accommodations.

City staffers and other members noted that plans are in the works for additional affordable housing.

Christine Kahlow, who was elected vice-chair of the committee Tuesday, said the fact that the houses had not been well maintained raises code enforcement issues. “We need to make sure affordable housing is well-maintained,” she said.

In another zoning matter, the J and A Committee rejected a request to rezone 607 Copeland Ave., where a house is to be razed, from light industrial to heavy industrial to allow for a self-storage building. The Plan Committee had recommended denial, saying the use would be unattractive along that corridor.

The J and A Committee elected Council member Andrea Richmond as chairwoman.