La Crosse City Council hears pushback on U-Haul plans for old Kmart building

Kabat voices disappointment, calls proposed use 'a shame'
Current zoning allows U-Haul to use the interior of the former Kmart building for retail sales, but rezoning would be necessary for fleet rentals and self-storage.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — Chagrin over the proposed use of the former Kmart building on the South Side as a U-Haul facility surfaced at the La Crosse City Council meeting Thursday night, with Mayor Tim Kabat describing the plan as “a shame.”
Council member Doug Happel raised the issue, saying constituents have peppered him with questions about the proposal since the U-Haul Company of Southwestern Wisconsin and Rockford announced its plans for the building last week.
The main concerns are who owns the building, what the zoning is and “what the city council can do,” presumably to thwart the plan, Happel said.
Kabat said neighbors also have quizzed him about the status of the building, which Kmart closed in September 2017 and devolved into what many people consider an eyesore.
“We have tried to get something neighborhood-benefiting,” the mayor said. “I probably am more disappointed than anybody. It’s a shame.”
Andrea Trane, whose appointment as director of the city’s Planning, Development and Assessment Department the council confirmed later, said U-Haul officials told her that the company has a contract to buy the property, but the sale is not final.
A U-Haul official had told Channel 8/News Now and other media last week that the company had bought the building and land at 2415 State Road. It plans to begin using it as a temporary retail showroom this month with a limited stock of moving supplies. Longer term, it would seek zoning for self-storage and U-Haul truck and trailer rental.
Under current zoning, U-Haul can use the interior of the building for retail, but any changes such making it a hub for fleet rental or self-storage would require zoning changes, Trane said.
The Village Shopping Center across the street had bought the building for redevelopment, but plans stalled as officials considered various proposals for housing, mix-use development and other ideas.
Happel asked whether the council could change the property’s commercial zoning to residential or mixed-use residential, but Trane said such an action would need consent of the property owner.
Council member Phillip Ostrem asked what type of justification the city would need to deny any rezoning request.
Mayor Kabat pulled the plug on the discussion at that point, noting that the issue was not on the agenda and therefore was not a proper topic.
On another matter, the council approved a resolution to use part of its General Fund 2021 Operating Budget Contingency for COVID-19 expenses, floodplain engineering solutions and bottled water for about 40 town of Campbell residents experiencing PFAS contamination in their private wells from two city wells near the La Crosse Regional Airport.
The uses and monetary amounts will be:
• $100,000 for COVID-19 supplies
• $40,000 for floodplain engineering
• $25,000 bottled water service for homes eligible for the service. Four homeowners have declined the service at this point. The council also heard an update on the contamination and additional tests of private wells in the area.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding between the La Crosse Fire Department and Holmen Area Fire Department Board for an automatic mutual-aid agreement for fire and emergency responses. The MOU stipulates that the departments will collaborate with the La Crosse County Emergency Dispatch Center to develop dispatching guidelines between the two communities.