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Smilin' Moose plans moving forward

The owners of the Smilin’ Moose were happy, too, at the end of last week’s meeting of the Hudson Plan Commission.

On Thursday night, April 24, the commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval of development plans for a deck and a patio that Mike Tupa and Tom Tomaro want to add to the back of their bar and restaurant in downtown Hudson.

The approval came with the stipulation that the owners pay a $70,000 fee in lieu of providing 28 off-street parking spaces that would otherwise be required by the city’s zoning code.

Businesses in the downtown business district (B-3) may pay a $2,500 per-stall fee instead of providing the number of off-street parking spaces required by the size of the building.

The zoning code requires downtown establishments that serve food or alcoholic beverages to provide an off-street parking stall for each 100 square feet of usable floor space or one for every three people allowed inside according to the building’s occupancy limit. The first 6,000 square feet of building area is exempt from the requirement.

Two weeks earlier, the commission postponed making a recommendation on the planned Smilin’ Moose expansion after several neighbors objected to it.

The neighbors’ main concern was the impact that a bigger establishment would have on the already short supply of parking in the downtown.

Concerns were also raised about the noise that an open-air bar might generate. References were made to the rock bands that have been playing at the Smilin’ Moose on Friday nights and the disc jockey music on Saturday nights.

At the April 10 meeting, the commission said it wanted more time to consider the parking issue and the setback of the patio from the alley, as well as the proposed patio fencing and the sidewalk access to the patio.

Sandeen Insurance owner Meme Fehr, bike shop owner Art Doyle and attorney Brent Johnson, representing some unnamed downtown businesses, repeated their opposition to the Smilin’ Moose expansion that they had stated at the commission’s previous meeting.

Fehr quoted from the city’s Comprehensive Plan, noting the historic character of the downtown. She asked the commission to consider the effect the expansion would have on other businesses, Lakefront Park and the downtown as a whole.

Doyle reiterated his concerns about a lack of parking in the downtown.

He said restaurants create a high demand for parking, affecting businesses like his that don’t use as much, but lose customers when it isn’t available.

Doyle reported that he had had a civil conversation with the owners of the Smilin’ Moose, but he remains in disagreement with them about the effect the expansion of their business will have on his bike shop.

Smilin’ Moose co-owner Mike Tupa later said he believes the bar and restaurant will draw more customers to the bike shop.

“Though we agree to disagree, I feel our business would help his if he embraced it,” Tupa said.

Johnson cited a parking study commissioned by a Hudson Area Chamber of Commerce committee that said there is a shortage of 185 parking stalls in the downtown during peak periods.

And that study, he said, assumed that the River City Center lot is available to the general public. He indicated that the lot is for customers of the businesses located there.

“The question is should we add to the problem now? Would that be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan recommendation for the downtown district?” Johnson asked.

The Comprehensive Plan encourages the development of more parking in the downtown, he said, and the Smilin’ Moose expansion will take away the current off-street parking at the rear of the establishment.

Trudy Popenhagen and Bill Giese spoke on behalf of The Phipps Center for the Arts.

Popenhagen said The Phipps’ Board of Directors feels strongly that the city needs to address the downtown parking shortage. Popenhagen chairs the board.

She said she doesn’t necessarily have a problem with the Smilin’ Moose, and reported having a pleasant experience dining there the previous evening.

Giese was more adamant, saying that the parking problem is a threat to The Phipps’ ability to continue offering programming.

He said The Phipps is a unique cultural asset that few other communities have, while there are half a dozen places nearby where you can find “a cheeseburger and a beer.”

Mayor Alan Burchill challenged Giese’s statement about The Phipps being at risk.

“From what?” he asked. “You think it is going to go out of business?”

The mayor said he didn’t think that people having to walk a few blocks to get to an event at The Phipps would cause it to go under.

Smilin’ Moose supporters

The Smilin’ Moose also had supporters.

Hudson resident Chuck Skoglund said the deck and patio would be unique, and a welcome addition to the city.

Skoglund said parking never deters him from going to downtown Hudson restaurants, and he wasn’t aware of Art Doyle’s Spokes & Pedals shop until visiting the Smilin’ Moose.

Real estate agent Nanci Johnson thanked all the downtown businesses. She said that when she entertains business clients, they are always amazed by the vitality of downtown Hudson.

She said she had been to the Smilin’ Moose five times and she had never heard a customer complain about the parking. The restaurant offers a place to have a good meal while enjoying a view of the St. Croix River, she said.

A man who identified himself as a Locust Street business owner said his sales have increased since the Smilin’ Moose opened.

“Nothing makes a crowd like a crowd,” he said, adding that the restaurant’s deck and patio would be “a step in the right direction.”

Mike Tupa, half-owner of the Smilin’ Moose, said he had done his own survey of the daytime availability of parking around the bar and restaurant. He said he found multiple spots available.

He said that while outdoor seating is being added, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more people at the establishment at any given time.

When the weather is nice, people like to be outside, he said, leaving the indoors sparsely occupied. And when it is too hot or cold outside, people want to be indoors with the air conditioning or heat.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Tupa said. “We strongly believe this is a positive move for downtown Hudson.”

Commissioners comment

While the commission approved the Smilin’ Moose plans by a large margin, some of the members qualified their support for doing so.

Patrick Casanova said the liked the idea of open-air dining overlooking the St. Croix River.

“What I don’t like is another party bar coming to Hudson,” he said, expressing concern about possible noise and rowdiness.

Casanova said that if the Smilin’ Moose owners had come to the Plan Commission initially with the complete plan for their business he might have had concerns about the large opening windows they installed.

He indicated he wasn’t in favor of bringing the indoor bar atmosphere outdoors.

Fred Yoerg also expressed disapproval of any excessive noise or behavior problems that might be associated with the open-air bar.

“At 10 o’clock at night, I can hear what is going on downtown,” said Yoerg, who lives on the 300 block of Locust Street.

“We had this hoop and holler mentality in town at one time, and I don’t think anybody is sorry it is gone,” Yoerg said, referring to the 1970s when the drinking age was 18 in Wisconsin and 21 in Minnesota. The age disparity brought thousands of Minnesota teens to Hudson in search of alcohol, and trouble ensued.

Commissioner Frank Rhoades wanted to know if the Smilin’ Moose owners were aware of the city’s noise ordinance, and were committed to obeying it.

Tupa said the answer was yes to both questions.

Commissioner Kevin Vance said the Smilin’ Moose plans meet the city’s regulations, and he didn’t see how the commission could deny them.

“I would rather have the problem of not enough parking in Hudson than empty streets in Hudson,” Vance added.

He said the city could address the parking problem by collecting a payment in lieu of providing off-street parking from the Smilin’ Moose owners.

Mary Yacoub, the City Council’s representative on the Plan Commission, said she has been passionate about increasing the availability of parking in the downtown since coming on the council.

She said the council is addressing the issue and should have a recommendation by the end of July.

“We need to find immediate solutions,” Yacoub said.

Commissioner Mary Claire Potter cast the lone vote against recommending approval of the Smilin’ Moose deck and patio.

She said the establishment markets to a younger crowd and there are already problems with the volume of music coming from the establishment.

Potter said the establishment sells $3 mason jar cocktails after midnight and added, “Nothing good happens after midnight.”

She said the commission had a responsibility to assess how the Smilin’ Moose expansion would affect the neighborhood.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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