Waupaca denies permit
Zoning prohibits Ruby’s Pantry from using building as planned
By Angie Landsverk
Home and Away Ministries wants to receive, store and redistribute surplus food in the former Churny cheese plant on West Fulton Street.
The property’s zoning does not allow the city to issue a special use permit for it.
Located between Don Fisher’s Barber Shop and Neuville Motors, the property is zoned B-4 Strip Commercial.
“The zoning district that exists does not have a provision for this kind of operation or activity,” Steven Sorenson told the city’s Plan Commission on July 10.
Sorenson is an attorney with von Briesen and Roper, in Oshkosh.
The city’s zoning code only allows this proposed use to exist on property zoned Heavy Industrial, he said.
Mayor Brian Smith suggested the commission table the request.
“This will be back at Plan Commission next month before it even goes to the full council,” he said.
However, Pat Phair made a motion to deny the request as it was presented.
The commission voted to do so.
“We want to move forward with your plan, but we can’t do it this way,” Phair said. “We have to find an alternative way.”
Home and Away Ministries is a nonprofit based in North Branch, Minnesota.
Ruby’s Pantry is one of its outreach services.
The Ruby’s Pantry Pop-Up Pantries serve 610,000 people annually in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The monthly food distributions are meant to meet the needs of those who are food insecure, but are open to all people.
There are currently about 80 Pop-Up pantries in communities throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Ruby’s Pantry has operated a wholesale distribution facility in Waupaca for about eight years.
It is located at 717 10th St., in the former Waupaca Publishing facility.
Lyn Sahr is the founder of Ruby’s Pantry.
He told the commission they came to Waupaca eight years ago because someone here needed help.
Former Churney plant
The ministry wants to expand its work by opening a facility at 705 W. Fulton St.
“We bought the building because it’s big,” Sahr said.
The approximately 55,000-square-foot building is on a 3.56-acre parcel.
Sorenson said the project has been discussed for quite some time.
The city’s standards prohibit it in this zoning district, he said.
The Churny plant closed in 2013.
The property was sold that year and again in 2014.
It was rezoned B-4 Strip Commercial District in 2015, at the request of the property owner.
That brought it into alignment with the the city’s adopted preferred land use.
Prior to that, the property was zoned B-2, the mayor said.
Since the building stopped being used for manufacturing, even under B-2 in could not be used as a warehouse, Smith said.
Sorenson said the purpose of the B-4 district is to serve as a transitional district from U.S. Highway 10 to downtown.
The B-4 district includes single and multi-family housing, he said.
When Churny was on the property, it was a non-conforming use, Sorenson said.
Some may ask why it cannot be used in a similar way today, he said.
The new owner cannot “tack” on to the previous use because that use was not continual, Sorenson said.
If the city wants to permit the ministry’s requested use, it has two options.
They are rezoning the property to Heavy Industrial or changing the zoning ordinance to allow the use in the B-4 district, Sorenson said.
He said rezoning it would result in a spot zoning, something area property owners could contest.
A public hearing on the proposed rezoning would be required.
“If you rezone it, that permits anything in the Heavy Industrial District, so if someone in the future wanted to do manufacturing there, you could not say no,” Sorenson said.
He said the city would also have to change its comprehensive plan, because the zoning would be in violation of that plan.
If the city wants to change its zoning ordinance and allow warehouses in the B-4 district, a public hearing would be required for that as well.
“I think revising the ordinance to permit it in B-4 is the way to go,” said Alan Kjelland, a member of the commission.
Andrew Dane, the city’s interim director of community and economic development, noted at least one person previously approached the city, wanting to purchase the property and use it for a warehouse.
The department told him it was not a permitted use.
The mayor said the commission and council need to do some brainstorming about whether they want to rezone the property or add the requested use to B-4 to allow the ministry’s proposal to happen.
“We appreciate your consideration,” Sahr said. “We know it’s complicated.