Ivana’s Trunk

I have received many emails regarding Ivana’s Trunk. By this post, I am trying to answer the most common questions. If I am missing anything, please let me know.

I like Ivana’s Trunk. I have been in the store multiple times and bought a few things over the years. I hope it can find a way to survive.

However, as explained below, Ivana’s Trunk’s owner knew she was violating the law when she moved Ivana’s Trunk to its current location. And, contrary to what some of Ivana’s Trunk’s loudest supporters say, I have no magic wand that can turn Ivana’s Trunk’s code violations into compliance or that can waive those violations.

I am open to suggestions as to how to allow Ivana’s trunk to survive. However, whatever the City does, it needs to also ensure that it protects its integrity and integrity of its zoning enforcement, that it is even-handed and that it does not jeopardize its ability to enforce its zoning laws generally.

In every survey, and during elections, residents tell elected officials that there are all sorts of uses they do not want to see in Mequon. Any elected official who would advocate for 10 story buildings, check cashing stores, a flea market or a Goodwill superstore would be laughed out of office. Mequon keeps those things from happening through its zoning code. If Mequon decided to ignore its code in some instances, it would have legal trouble maintaining it in others.

I understand and respect that Ivana’s Trunk has many loyal customers. However, I think it is important, considering the amount of email I am getting, for people to have the facts.

Ivana’s Trunk Knew that It Could Not Operate in Its Current location When It Moved There.

Ivana’s Truck has been operating illegally at its location since taking occupancy in 2018 (over 18 months ago).  When the business owner sought to take occupancy of the current location, City staff informed the people representing the business that it was illegal to open the business there.  It moved there anyway.

Not only is Ivana’s Trunk current location impermissible, but it reportedly has been selling and storing things outside (an ordinance violation). In October, I received an email from a concerned resident who said:  “I personally have enjoyed going into Ivana’s Trunk on Port Washington Road.  However, I think all the ‘treasures/things’ outside are becoming an eyesore. At first just a few items, now it looks like a junk yard.”

Also, upon information and belief, Ivana’s Trunk has other building code violations. Ivana’s Trunk has not had plumbing, electrical or other required inspections.

Several years ago, Ivana’s Trunk did basically the same exact thing. It moved to a location in the Town Center without proper zoning. The City stretched the language of the zoning code (there was some gray area in the language for the Town Center’s Arrival Corridor) to allow it to stay there, knowing that the owner of the building was likely to tear the building down in the near future. Ivana’s Trunk also put-up illegal signs at that location, presumably knowing they were not allowed, and illegally stored and displayed materials outside.

Ivana’s Trunk, or its supporters, have tried to make it sound as if it is being picked on by the City. The opposite is true. It has repeatedly, and knowingly, violated the rules, assuming that the City would cave under pressure. Ivana’s Trunk has apparently taken the position that it is more fruitful to ask for forgiveness.

The City Has Given Ivana’s Trunk Over 1-1/2 Years to Fix Its Problem.

This is not a heavy-handed, quick enforcement action. The City could have shut Ivana’s Trunk down as soon as it moved to its current location. City staff did not. It gave Ivana’s Trunk time to move, or to pursue a zoning code change. As explained below, the City then undertook a review of the applicable zoning code provisions and told Ivana’s Trunk that it would wait on enforcement until that review was completed.

Resale Shops Have Been Illegal on Port Washington Road for Decades.

This is not a new issue. Resale shops have been illegal on Port Washington Road for 30 years or more. The City did not change the rules to prevent Ivana’s Trunk from staying in its location as some have suggested.

Under State Law, the City Cannot Grant a Variance to Allow Ivana’s Trunk to Stay in Its Current Location.

Some people have suggested that the City should grant Ivana’s trunk a variance. That is not allowed under Wisconsin law. Variances can be granted under some circumstances for technical or quantitative standards (e.g., the number of feet a building is setback, the size of a sign). However, a variance cannot be granted to allow an illegal use in a zoning district.

Under State Law, Ivana’s Trunk Cannot be “Grandfathered.”

Some people have suggested that Ivan’s Trunk should be “grandfathered.” Under state and local law,  grandfathered rights ONLY apply to businesses that were operating legally in a location before a code change. Ivana’s Trunk was never operating legally in this location.

Isn’t this Just Bureaucratic Rules-are-Rules Narrowmindedness?

I agree that government (on all levels) too often has a rules-are-rules, unthinking mindset. But this is not that. Government cannot just ignore laws if it ever hopes to enforce them. Government cannot just pick and choose winners and losers. It can exercise discretion in interpretation, but the law is very clear in this instance. There is no gray area. Government can be lenient in enforcement to minimize harm. Mequon has done that for over 1-1/2 years. And government can look at the rules and decide if they should be changed. See below. But it is wrong to just ignore the rules for one business and not for others. If the public wants the City to throw out the zoning code, or make it far less effective, it should say so.

In Light of Ivana’s Trunk’s Illegal Use, and Requests by Two Clothing Resellers, the Planning Commission and Common Council Extensively Reviewed Zoning for Resale Shops Over the Past Several Months.

There were public meetings regarding Mequon’s resale ordinances on the following dates:

Planning Commission                         October 7, 2019
Planning Commission                         November 11, 2019
Finance-Personnel Committee          January 14, 2020
Common Council                                  January 14, 2020
Special Meeting/Finance-
Personnel Committee                          January 22, 2020
Common Council                                  February 10, 2020

The City passed new ordinances allowing clothing and clothing accessory resale shops as conditional uses in the B-2 zoning district (Mequon’s general retail areas) and resale furniture and household merchandise, as well as architectural salvage, (the classifications uthat would cover Ivana’s Trunk) as conditional uses in the B-5 zoning district (light industrial).

Ivana’s Trunk appeared at one or two of the initial meetings; therefore, it knew about the review and had an opportunity to  make its preferences known. It was represented by an attorney. For some reason, it did not participate after those initial meetings, and did not ask its friends, who are now speaking up, to say anything during that process.

The Building in Which Ivana’s Trunk is Located is in the B-4 Zoning District, and the Planning Commission and Common Council Unanimously Decided Not to Include Resale Shops in the B-4 District.

For reasons that I do not fully understand, many years ago, the property on which Ivana’s Trunk is currently located was zoned B-4. B-4 is Mequon’s zoning for a business park. Uses that are allowed in a business park are professional offices, business offices and financial, insurance and real estate offices. The code has a list of compatible other uses that may be allowed as conditional uses in B-4. A retail resale shop is not listed.

At the meetings listed above, both the Planning Commission and the Common Council unanimously opted not to add resale shops to the list of compatible conditional uses in B-4. Not a single one of these 14 people moved to allow household resale shops in the B-4 district. They concluded that a resale shop would not be compatible in our business parks. In any of our true business parks, such a business would detract from the value and use of those parks.hey are not general retail areas or areas that cater in these kinds of goods.

While it is true that Ivana’s Trunk’s building does not make much sense as a “business park,” that is how it is zoned. If the owner desired, he could redevelop the property as a business park. He is allowed to put uses in the building that could go in a business park. Until Ivana’s Trunk, that is how he has been using it.

The property could be rezoned. That request should come from the property owner.

So, What Can Ivana’s Trunk Do?

Ivanna’s Trunk has three options:

  1. It could propose an amendment to Mequon’s zoning code to allow its use in the B-4 district. There is a few for such a “text amendment.” Considering the process that the Planning Commission and the Common Council just went through, that might not be a productive option.
  2. It could ask its landlord to seek to rezone the property from B-4 to B-5. There would be a great deal of community opposition to having light industrial in that location on Port Washington Road. Moreover, I expect that the landlord has other plans for that property.
  3. It could find a location in the B-5 district and move there.

Ivana’s Trunk took a big risk when it moved to a location where it clearly is not allowed. The City has done what it can and should both to give Ivana’s Trunk time and to review its policies.

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