Now that the gates are open for Festival Foods and HyVee to build stores at the southwest edge of town, several residents are asking why two more grocers are needed and questioning their likelihood for success. Some are concerned if one store shutters its doors, it could become a graffiti-ridden, vermin-invested nuisance property.

Village board members considered imposing a vacant store ordinance on HyVee at their April 15 meeting, but saying they didn’t want to bet against companies who were investing in their community, declined to require this as a condition for approval. There is a maintenance ordinance that could instead be strengthened, they reasoned.

A Google search shows other communities do have vacant building policies in place. One is in Wauwatosa, where the Journal Times reported in 2012 that big box owners are required to pay an annual fee to be used to tear down the structure should store close.

Another passed in the city of Lewisville, Texas, requires an annual inspection, insurance, and the owners to register the store as vacant with the city should it become unoccupied.

If HyVee and Festival Foods build their stores, they will become the largest in Waunakee at over 60,000 square feet. Both require a conditional use permit because they exceed Waunakee’s policy on store sizes. Still, compared to other big box stores twice that size, they are relatively small, and village staff seemed confident other uses for the buildings could be found if the stores closed.

HyVee’s vice president made it clear that the company would back out of its proposal had a vacant store agreement been required and offered reassurances that HyVee would take measures to see its store leased or sold if it were to close.

After a year of work with the Woodland Crest developers on their proposal on the southeast corner of Woodland Drive and Hwy. Q, which included the HyVee store, board members were presented with a second request for Festival Foods on the west side of Hwy. Q and allowed that one to move forward. Would requiring HyVee, the first applicant, to sign a vacant store agreement after the board allowed a competitor to come forward be fair?

Yet allowing the Festival Foods to submit its proposal had clear advantages. With heightened competition, once the Festival Foods site developer announced no Tax Incremental Finance assisted was needed, HyVee removed its $2 million TIF request to assist with public improvements.

Even as other retailers such as Shopko and K-Mart are closing their stores, both HyVee and Festival Foods so far seem to believe that they will be successful in Waunakee. Village board members have said the companies themselves are the best judges of their future success in Waunakee.

The shovels are not yet in the ground, however, and one store can still back out if the market seems soft. Both stores will be the closest to other new developments outside of the village, particularly the Community of Bishop’s Bay. Perhaps two stores could work, and perhaps that prognostication is best left to experts in the industry.

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