A simple change proposed by one downtown business owner is leading to a larger debate between other business owners and city officials.
Maria Norberg, owner of Grounded Specialty Coffee, wants to remove the front door from the shop; however, members of the Historic Preservation Commission say that change goes against historic standards.
Norberg went to the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) last spring to get permission to build a side patio.
"In that process, we worked through the application and tried to come to an agreement on what is my current front door," she said.
The HPC approved the patio with a second entrance which made Grounded Specialty Coffee more handicap accessible.
"We have several people that come in on a daily basis that need that kind of access," Norberg said. "Prior to that with using our front door we had ramps that my staff would put out to try to make that work."
Norberg was advised to keep her front door.
"We followed their suggestion of leave the door as it is," she said. "Just put a planter out there and make it work."
After more than a year, Norberg says something has to be done. The planter outside is creating unneeded confusion among customers and leading to an undesirable aesthetic for a store front.
She approached the HPC once again.
"The denial was based on the Downtown Design Standards," Norberg said.
"At the end of the day, the downtown business owners came up with these standards," said Jessica Olson, Chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.
Olson says that the front entrance has historic significance to the building, and therefore, should be preserved.
"The HPC did decide that it would be appropriate for her to maintain that inlet so that if a future business owner came along and wanted to revert it back to the street facing entrance being the main entrance that there would be a framework there to make that restoration happen," Olson said.
"We're not demoing a historic building, and the changes I'm proposing that we make are reversible," Norberg said. "If somebody wanted to purchase this building and put back in the original entrance, it's a matter of changing some glass."
Norberg's request opened the door to a much larger discussion.
"I know that the hesitation is, 'What precedent will this set for everybody else?'" said Norberg.
"Next month, somebody else might come forward, and the HPC might need to tell them, 'No. You need to use this material. You need to do it that way,' and they're being asked to spend more money than you ordinarily would in a typical piece of real estate," Olson said. "So, we have to be fair."
Norberg says she had no idea that a front door could become such a major issue. She is split between her rights as a property owner and her desire to preserve downtown's character.
Norberg is working with the La Crosse Planning Department and Downtown Mainstreet, Inc. to reach an agreement. At this point, she says she would be happy with anything that is not a planter.
City Council will take a vote on the issue next month as part of the appeal process. Olson says that downtown business owners will get a chance to weigh in in on the proposal at that council meeting.
The HPC is working to create a more uniform response for similar requests.