County, Maiman sign agreement
By Robert Cloud
Waupaca County and Jeff Maiman have resolved the dispute over the Wheelhouse’s off-site parking lot in Farmington.
Under the terms of a settlement agreement approved March 2 by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin, the Wheelhouse will continue to provide off-site parking for its employees.
“It’s been resolved to my satisfaction and to the county’s satisfaction,” Maiman said.
Terms of the agreement include moving the parking lot’s entrance from Pleasant Park Lane to County Trunk Q, subject to approval by the Waupaca County Highway Department.
Diane Meulemans, county corporation counsel, said the agreement will also require Maiman to install a berm and plantings on the former driveway so neighbors along Pleasant Park Lane will not easily see the parking lot.
Maiman told the Waupaca County Post he originally proposed that the parking lot’s entrance be onto County Q, but was informed it would be too close to two other intersections, Pleasant Park Lane and Round Lake Road.
Meulemans said Maiman and the County Highway Committee will meet to discuss how to implement the changes to the entrance.
“Things won’t happen immediately, but they are having those conversations now,” Meulemans said.
Maiman has less than 90 days to submit a lighting plan to the Waupaca County Zoning Department.
Maiman said he plans to install three downward LED lights in the parking lot that he said “lights the surface not the sky.”
“I don’t want anything shining into the road or into houses,” Maiman said.
In 2013, the Wheelhouse began leasing a vacant residential parcel, located directly across County Q from the current site.
The site was used for off-site employee parking in order to free parking space for customers.
The Wheelhouse did not have adequate parking space for both customers and employees, especially during the summer season.
Maiman said the parcel on County Q became too expensive to lease.
In December 2014, Maiman learned the four-acre parcel located at E1120 Pleasant Park Lane was for sale. It was zoned Sewered Residential.
Maiman hired a real estate broker to contact the county zoning office to determine if off-site parking would be permitted on the parcel.
Waupaca County’s Zoning Code in 2015 did not identify use classifications for off-street parking as either permitted or not permitted.
The Zoning Code said, “Land uses that are not specifically listed are not necessarily excluded from locating within a given Zoning District.”
Maiman met with Ryan Brown, the county zoning director, in December 2014. He described the improvements he needed to make to the property in order to create a parking lot.
He also indicated he would not purchase the property unless the Wheelhouse could use part of it for parking.
According to Judge Duffin’s October 2017 ruling on the county’s motion for summary judgment, Brown and Maiman had two different interpretations of what happened at the December 2014 meeting.
“Maiman says that Brown told him at that meeting that the proposed use of the Pleasant Park Property would be allowed under the terms of the Waupaca County Zoning Code,” Duffin noted. “Brown says that he told Maiman only that the use of the property for off-site parking was not specifically prohibited by the Zoning Code.”
On April 2, 2015, Maiman purchased the property and immediately hired contractors to remove some of the trees, grade the property and add fill dirt. Except for the entrance, the lot is screened by the trees that were not removed.
Wheelhouse employees began using the parking lot in the summer of 2015.
On Aug. 7, 2015, attorneys representing families who live on Pleasant Park Lane sent a letter to Brown regarding the proposed parking lot.
They asked Brown to immediately notify Maiman that he could not move forward on the parking lot. They asked that the Wheelhouse’s proposal go through the normal approval process with supporting documentation and that there be public hearings.
On Aug. 20, Brown and Meulemans met with the Zoning Committee, discussed the neighbors’ objections and confirmed the Wheelhouse could use a portion of the property for parking.
On Sept. 18, 2015, Brown sent a letter to Maiman indicating his “project requires no authorization via the Waupaca County Planning and Zoning Office or administrative Committee’s permitting or rezone process in order to proceed.”
In the letter, Brown says the ordinance “does not clearly and unambiguously prohibit your intended project to be completed on the parcel, nor does it clearly indicate a permit is necessary for the intended project.”
On Sept. 24, 2015, an appeal was filed with the Waupaca County Board of Adjustment on behalf of the neighbors of the Wheelhouse’s parking lot.
Waupaca County then engaged outside counsel to review the Zoning Ordinance.
On Dec. 22, 2015, Brown sent a letter to Maiman informing him that “while the zoning ordinance does not outright prohibit the proposed employee parking lot, the lot cannot be permitted as a matter of right. Therefore, this letter will serve as notice that the zoning ordinance does not permit the use of the property … as a parking lot affiliated with The Wheelhouse Restaurant.”
On Jan. 21, 2016, Maiman filed an appeal with the Board of Adjustment.
On May 17, 2016, the Waupaca County Zoning Code was amended. It now provides that “off-site parking that is identified as a Conditional Use in a Zoning District must be located with the same zoning district as, and within 500 feet … of the property being served.”
The Wheelhouse is located 1,430 feet from its off-site parking lot and is zoned Rural Commercial – Neighborhood District. The parking lot parcel is zoned Sewered Residential.
On June 2, 2016, Waupaca county cited Maiman for violation of the zoning ordinance.
Maiman and Waupaca County subsequently filed lawsuits against each other, and the case made its way into federal court.
One of the issues Maiman raised in his lawsuit was that the county was selectively enforcing the ordinance.
Other businesses in Waupaca County had nonconforming parking lots. Clear Water Harbor, Camp Onaway, Bear Lake Campground, the Iola Car Show and Symco Thresheree all provided off-site parking more than 500 feet away from the primary site and on parcels with different zoning classifications.
“I was parking there prior to this ordinance change and they were parking there prior to this ordinance change,” Maiman said. “If they can do it, so can I.”
The case was then mediated and the parties reached an agreement.
In his Order for Judgment, Duffin noted off-site parking was a lawful use prior to the ordinance being amended in May 2016 and was transformed to a “legal nonconforming use” after the county approved the amendment.
Duffin found that the amendment nor any subsequent amendment of the Zoning Code “restricts or limits the lawful nonconforming use of the property.”
Although Maiman is relieved to have settled the lawsuit, he remains angry over the long fight that resulted after he received permission to create the parking lot three years ago.
“How can the justice system punish the only person who did everything right?” he asked. “I had to put a lot of things on hold here (his business) just so I could pursue justice in this case.”