By Neil Johnson - October 17th 2022
The Janesville Plan Commission and downtown business stakeholders overwhelmingly gave thumbs-up Monday to a plan to turn the former Crazy Joe’s furniture store into climate-controlled self-storage.
In an hour-long set of public hearings, Plan Commission members questioned whether city approval would set a new precedent, allowing storage downtown.
The commission was reviewing twin requests for a zoning change and conditional-use permit by Minneapolis-based Midwest Indoor Storage, to convert most of the former two-story, 43,000-square-foot Crazy Joe’s at 314 W. Milwaukee St. into leased, secured self-storage.
Among other questions, commission members pondered whether a zoning change would encourage more owners of vacant property in the central downtown business district to to seek a change from zoning that’s generally limited to retail and apartment use to B6—a more general business zoning with fewer limits.
The commission went on to unanimously grant a conditional-use permit for the project that ties Midwest Indoor Storage to a plan city staff has recommended. It leaves as retail space 2,400 square feet of storefront on the east end of the building’s Milwaukee Street frontage.
The commission also moved unanimously to recommend a zoning change for the property. The City Council has final authority to approve the zoning change and is expected to vote on that on Nov. 17.
Vacant since summer
Crazy Joe’s has been vacant since this summer after the furniture store closed permanently, but the space had been on the market for about two years since its owners sought to retire.
Duane Cherek, the city’s manager of planning services, said on Monday night said that before Midwest Storage became interested a year ago and ultimately bought the property this summer, a commercial property broker had turned up few legitimate suitors for the circa 1950s building Cherek called “nondescript.”
“With the exception of a limited glance... at an in indoor swimming facility, nothing kept coming back to this building for use,” Cherek said.
The building’s bland and windowless brick-front, second-story façade facing West Milwaukee Street would change dramatically under its new owners’ plans to revamp the building. It would face Milwaukee Street as three distinct storefronts, including two retail spaces the owner would lease to small businesses.
Midwest Storage has said it is targeting downtown apartment renters and small businesses who need extra storage for inventory. On Monday, Midwest Indoor Storage owner Nicole Elsawaf said it plans a full electrical upgrade to the building, which would have a few hundred roll-down storage units of different sizes.
The project has support from Forward Janesville, the city’s main chamber of commerce. And stakeholders on the city’s west side chimed in Monday in support.
Todd Kimball, a commercial property owner along West Milwaukee Street, said he’s glad to see plans to give the property a facelift. Kimball, who operates existing self-storage units on the edge of the city, said there’s currently no true climate-controlled storage in Janesville.
Kimball exuded support for the building’s reuse and a proposed exterior facelift that city planning officials have called “a significant investment.”
Kimball said use of the building for apartment renters’ storage of bikes, kayaks and other bulky items would be a boon as a developer across the street renovates the six-story Monterey Hotel as a future home to dozens of apartment units.
Kimball, who has operated commercial properties on downtown’s west side for four decades, said he considers the redevelopment of Crazy Joe’s to be pivotal.
“The whole end of the block is finally changing,” he said.
Cherek on Monday told the Plan Commission the city shouldn’t view a zoning change for the former furniture store to be a slippery slope for future adaptive reuses downtown. He said the building itself sits at the western edge of the downtown area, and its new zoning is in line with adjacent properties.
Elsawaf said her group intends to have operating hours between 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m., with no late-night movement of items in and out of storage.
She also said tenant rules would curb people dumping belongings by the loading area in the building’s back lot, adjacent to a newly developed commercial building.
Two managers would work out of an onsite office. And, Elsawaf said under the facility’s rules, small businesses that lease storage units for overflow inventory storage would not be allowed to treat the property as a warehouse or shipping and receiving terminal.
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