La Crosse city council approves permit for temporary parking lot at Gundersen

Parking lot proposal faced by some neighborhood opposition

The City of La Crosse has a tough decision to make on the future of several rental units on the city’s southside.

Last week, Gundersen Health System submitted a conditional use permit  to tear down rental units near 8th street south and Denton street.

The city’s common council approved the permit at its meeting Thursday night. 

Gundersen owns all of the rental units except for one, which will stay standing.

The goal is to build a temporary parking lot for future developments around the campus.

At the council meeting,  residents got to weigh in on the plan. 

Some argue it runs against the revitalization plans made in the neighborhood.

“When you flatten houses and turn them into parking lots, that’s that many fewer people living in the neighborhood and it makes it harder for the rest of the neighborhood to sustain itself. It degrades the rest of the neighborhood that stays behind,” one resident told the council.

A representative from Gundersen Health System who was at the meeting said the lot will be redeveloped with help from the city and area residents.

“We believe this parking is going to be necessary for patients in the short term and we look to work with the city and our neighborhood residents on looking for ways for better use of this property in the future,” said Michael Richards.

The council did add an amendment to the plan adding a 5 year sunset clause. That means if no changes are made to the parking lot in that time, the lot would revert to the current zoning regulations.

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A controversial parking lot proposed by Gundersen Health System is on Thursday night’s La Crosse common council meeting’s agenda.

Last week, Gundersen Health System submitted a conditional use permit with the city to tear down several rental units that they own near 8th Street South and Denton Street to build a temporary parking lot for future developments around the campus.

Some neighborhood residents have voiced their opposition to the proposal, saying it goes against revitalization plans in the neighborhood.

“You’ve got land, and there’s really bad uses for it, and there’s really good uses for it, and on that spectrum, the worst possible use is a parking lot,” said Andrew Londre, a neighborhood resident.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat agreed that parking lots are not always the best use for land but believes in this case, it makes sense.

“I’m not a big fan of surface parking lots,” said Kabat. “I really believe it’s temporary use, and through the real actions and successes that we’ve seen, that it’s going to be a development piece sooner rather than later.”

But Londre has worries that the lot won’t be temporary and has submitted to the city a solution of his own, which includes a time limit on how long Gundersen can use the lot before moving on to develop it and fully utilizing all the spots Gundersen has available.

Londre said the community hasn’t had enough time to provide input before the proposal gets the final vote.

“We don’t know what the consensus is, because we didn’t hear about his until about three weeks ago,” he said. “Whether you’re opposed to it or against it, I think our community does best when we have an open honest discussion about what’s going on.”

Last week, the Judiciary and Administration committee amended the resolution to have Gundersen work with the city on a five-year campus redevelopment plan and traffic assessment in the neighborhood, along with Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for the properties being knocked down, should the proposal be approved.

Londre said the amendments weren’t enough, but the mayor believes the city will be able to work things out at the meeting.

“Good things are happening. Great investments are being made. I think everybody wants to see that continue,” said Kabat. “But, there are times when you run into some challenging projects like this where you’ve got to sort through it, and I’m confident we can do that.”

Gundersen officials say they informed the city of the plan in February and also talked to the Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhood Association Committee earlier this spring.

Despite the concern, they say the plan will not only improve Gundersen’s campus but also the neighborhood surrounding it.

“Although this is about a parking lot we’re asking to build, it’s really about reducing surface parking. We’re going to end up with less spots then we did before we started for the development we do believe is going to be a huge benefit for this neighborhood and this community,” said Gundersen Health System Sr. Vice President Mark Platt.

The common council meets Thursday night at 7:30, where they will vote on the proposal. They don’t usually conduct public hearings at such meetings but can allow it with a majority vote.

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