The La Crosse Common Council will decide next month whether to allow Grounded Specialty Coffee to remove the entrance facing Main Street, leaving the door on the side of the building facing its patio and Third Street as the sole entryway for customers.
The council unanimously voted Thursday to refer the downtown coffee shop’s appeal of last month’s Heritage Preservation Commission decision to deny the request, during a busy meeting where it also took a step forward on addressing the city’s aging fire stations and accepted a grant to fund additional neighborhood resource officers.
Maria Norberg, the owner of Grounded Specialty Coffee at 308 Main St. for the last seven years, asked the commission for a certificate of appropriateness for the change, which would allow her to move forward with significant alterations to the building’s facade, including removing the existing entrance and installing a window flush with the existing windows on either side.
The main reason for the side entrance is the need for one door that’s accessible to everybody, she said.
“I am incredibly proud to own a historic building in downtown. I love downtown La Crosse and its unique characteristics, but one of the struggles that I’ve dealt with and I tried to fix immediately upon purchasing the business was the (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility going into the building,” Norberg said.
Because of the way the building sits, there is no way to turn the Main Street entrance into one accessible via wheelchair. In 2017, Norberg built a patio on the empty lot next to her building and added a side door to allow safe, convenient access to both the building and the patio to customers with all levels of mobility.
Rather than have two entrances, she made plans to remove the one on Main Street. Because the building is in the Downtown Commercial Historic District, plans to alter the building need to go before the Heritage Preservation Commission, which denied the request citing the entrance design which goes back to the 1910s or 1930s.
“We do consider it a historic entry, historic storefront and our design standards that we’ve adopted over the last year, clearly indicate that a historic entry, a historic storefront should be retained,” said city senior planner Tim Acklin.
City planner Jason Gilman added that the standard was in place to preserve the pedestrian-friendly nature of downtown, as well as the city’s history, and the council should consider whether overturning the denial would set a precedent.
“It turns downtowns into places where pedestrians don’t have access to buildings,” Gilman said.
Upon the commission’s recommendation, she placed a planter in the Main Street entryway to make it clear which door was the main door.
“We went with that for about eight months until today. We tried to make that work,” Norberg said.
A flush front would both be less confusing for customers and a better use of space for a store that’s already small to begin with, she said.
Longtime regular customer Michael Sigman spoke in favor of Norberg’s appeal, saying he was grateful for the efforts Norberg has put forth to make her store accessible to everyone and the city should support her efforts to make it more accessible inside as well.
“It’s a pointless encumbrance inside. I’m running into something every day and I’m not the only one,” Sigman said.
Norberg, who said the front entrance was replaced in the 1980s, plans to return the building’s facade to its original appearance by removing the paint to expose the original brick, something she called “a matter of actual historic relevance.”
Council member Jessica Olson, who is also a member of the commission, asked the city hold off on making a decision for 30 days to allow neighboring property owners, Downtown Mainstreet Inc. and other stakeholders to share their perspectives.
“As much as I respect and appreciate the applicant’s investment, you have a lot of property owners making that investment and you owe it to them to give them their voice before you start making waivers to the rules,” Olson said.
Council member Douglas Happel, a former history teacher, agreed that the council needed more time, but said he was in favor of granting the appeal.
“However, 50, 100 years ago we did not make allowances for people who have disabilities and that is a major overriding factor,” he said. “I don’t mind 30 days to look at this, but let’s not lose sight of the forest for the trees.”
City of La Crosse staff members will investigate how to make plans for fire station improvements a reality after a Thursday La Crosse Common Council vote.
The council voted in favor of taking the next step to determine the future of the city’s four fire stations and whether the city will add a fifth, despite council president Martin Gaul’s reservations on whether a fifth station is necessary and whether it makes sense to investigate new locations for stations on the city’s north side and a new location for the Losey Boulevard station.
“I would agree that we need to do something with all of our stations. There’s no question about that,” Gaul said; however, he urged city officials to keep the issues of cost and locations in their mind as they move forward.
In other business, the council approved hiring two neighborhood resource officers for the Powell-Poage-Hamilton Neighborhood, spending $110,000 on a program to help homeless families, and an agreement and conditions for slipholders at the Isle La Plume marina.