Building permit approved for travel plaza in Fairview
A building permit for a travel plaza had been approved by the Fairview City Council. This decision came after a lengthy discussion on Thursday, Dec. 2, involving the Fairview City Council, multiple members of the public, and Stan and Bud Keim with Keim TS – the company that is spearheading the travel plaza project.
Present for the discussion were Mayor Art Vonderschmidt; council members Doug Bletscher, Steve Holthaus, Charlie Kramer, Margaret Wikle and Bridget Harvey; city clerk Christine Rosenberger; treasurer Kim Rettele; Joann Keim; Stan Keim; Donna Keim; Bud Keim; and Sam Keim, as well as multiple members the public.
What started out as a heated discussion between the public and council members, dissipated somewhat after clarification on the project was provided by council members and Stan Keim. Following the 1-1/2 hour discussion, council members unanimously approved the building permit for the travel plaza.
Vonderschmidt opened the meeting by allowing members of the public to speak and ask questions regarding the Keim Travel Plaza project.
Celeste and Casey Votruba of Fairview were the first on the agenda. Celeste Votruba started by asking for each council members’ stance on the project, as well as the RV parking and additional parking, which had been discussed at previous meetings.
“I would like to know from each member where you are standing on it, why you’re standing there and if you are for it, what you think the benefits are to the citizens of Fairview, and if you’re not for it, why,” Celeste Votruba said.
Wikle said she is not for the RV park and wants there to be more discussion on where exactly the trucks will be parking.
“I brought last time outlines of where they would like to lease property to park their trucks, and I would personally like to see where that line would stop at the ball diamonds and leave the rest of this still open with the RV park behind, but that is up for discussion at this point,” Wikle said.
Celeste Votruba made it clear during this portion of the discussion that she was not opposed to the travel plaza, but opposed to the additional parking and RV park that had previously been discussed.
Holthaus said he is in favor of the truck stop, because “no one has given me any good reason not to have it.”
“I drive a truck too for you that don’t know,” Holthaus said. “If you have a truck stop, that man [Stan Keim] isn’t going to have a soul come in there if there isn’t a place to park. My question to you folks are what do you want to do with your town? Do we want to just let it die?”
Bletscher said he was “all for it [the travel plaza].”
“You got to have enough parking to have trucks and traffic. I don’t care if its cars, pickups, campers or whatever. Now, I’m not for any campers up here by the park. As far as the camper area goes, that can be on the south end. The parking area, you got to have it.”
Kramer agreed that he was in favor of the project.
“I am for it, just like Doug [Bletscher] said,” Kramer said. “I am for the truck parking, because I have off and on driven a truck for over 40 years. I’ve been to a lot of truck stops. I know you have got to have the parking to get customers. Nobody wants to walk, especially in the middle of February with the snow blowing, a quarter mile to get up to a store to go get a bottle of pop or something, especially if the parking lot is full. You’ve got to have the room to park to get the people to come in.”
Harvey said she is neither for the project nor against it.
“First of all, I know nothing about trucks. I know lots of truckers, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. If the truck stop is down there and there’s truckers there, I’m still going to stop. If I didn’t live here, I would still stop. We travel to Missouri a lot and we have our certain truck stops that we stop at. I’ve never had a problem and I’m a pretty small woman.”
“I appreciate your response, but I’m not worried about safety,” Celeste Votruba said.
In the midst of the council members answering Celeste Votruba’s initial question, there was confusion about how the travel plaza project came to be and if anything was actually “in writing” for the project. Former Fairview Mayor Charlie Rogers was there to clear some of the confusion up.
“That [the travel plaza project] was a verbal agreement between Stan and I, when I was the mayor of the Council back about 10 years ago,” Rogers said. “Stan wanted to do the project with a truck wash and we cooperated with him. We conversed back and forth for several years and Stan got busy on some other projects that are identical to what he’s proposing here. Everybody that I’ve talked to, the truckers and all, said it’s one of the best truck stops, cleanest and most operative that they stop at. I mean, that is giving Keim [TS] a lot of credit. We agreed it would be a truck stop, convenience store, some time. It has come. It has taken 10 years, but it’s happening. So, he is living up to his word.”
Following the explanation, Casey and Celeste Votruba repeated that they were not opposed to the travel plaza, but to the additional truck parking that Keim was requesting.
Then, Stan Keim explained why it was necessary to have the additional truck parking for the project.
“The reason we are talking about extra parking is because we are limited on our side, that is correct, but to get a major brand, what they call an ‘end cap,’ to come to the plaza, you have to tell them and prove to them that you have so much parking to accommodate or they’re not even going to look at it,” Stan Keim said. “That’s the reason. So, what I did was I went to the Mayor and these fine folks [the council] to see is there is some type of arrangement, so that we can increase the parking to meet the need of the end cap that we’re currently talking to. We’ve gotten a long ways with these people [end cap], but they have thrown out there the number of parking spaces they want. So, I wanted to bring that forward, so you understand.”
As for the end cap, or major brand restaurant, Stan Keim said they had already been turned down by Wendy’s, Freddy’s and Arby’s.
“That makes sense to me,” Celeste Votruba said. “My ultimate question then will be, why, when the original layout of the land that you were given, some of those things weren’t factored?”
“Well, 10 years ago, in this business it was totally different,” Stan Keim said. “COVID-19 changed the way we behave. That is why we came now because America has changed. We have done two different traffic studies at this corner. Traffic has increased dramatically. I was stunned at the number of people that go by here, and with the number of trucks that are going to increase on the roads, this is a great time as Mayor Rogers said, to take this project on. You all have a tremendous opportunity to bring a lot of travelers through this fine little town.”
During this discussion, Vonderschmidt told those present that a fence would be put in between truck parking and the city park to create a separation.
Tareca McMillan of Fairview was the next to speak.
“I was totally against this, but as I hear you talk, and you say there will be a fence, maybe we need to come up with a proposal of what kind of fence,” McMillan said. “Is it going to be a chain link, is it going to be advertising? How will the fence enhance the separation of the concrete parking and the ball field? Second question. The City of Fairview does not have sales tax.”
“Thats a whole other town hall meeting,” Vonderschmidt said.
“It’s part of the whole issue,” McMillan said
“It’s not with this,” Vonderschmidt said. “We don’t get any sales tax.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” McMillan said. “The whole thing is to draw business and sales.”
Don Homan brought up issues of drainage and sales tax as well.
“I know that on the other side where they have the truck wash, they had drainage ditches, which they had built driveways over and so on. But on the other side by the ball park, that always floods,” D. Homan said. “The problem is, you put a big chunk of concrete right in the gully and you’re not going to get any drainage at all.”
“Sir, we haven’t done one single geographic survey on that property at all,” Vonderschmidt said.
Homan continued saying that the city was putting “the cart before the horse.”
“We haven’t even discussed if you’re going to do this or not,” D. Homan said. “That’s a big decision and this is a big problem. You’re putting the cart before the horse when we say, ‘okay, well we will talk about sales tax later.’ So, all of a sudden a year later, you try to charge sales tax on the diesel fuel. That’s a lot of lost money. You need to plan ahead and then act. You don’t say, ‘okay, let’s do this and see what happens from there.’”
“Thats a good idea,” Vonderschmidt said.
“It’s not a good idea, its a fact,” D. Homan said. “Responsible leaders look at facts, not good ideas.”
“I have looked at it, sir,” Vonderschmidt said. “I have looked into it. Stan and I have talked sales tax issues. Sales tax has never come up in any of the council meetings, or from any of the people that have been opposed to this.”
“That’s because people assumed you knew what you were doing,” D. Homan said.
“Well, I’ll take offense to that,” Vonderschmidt said.
“Good! Take it! You deserve it!” D. Homan said.
Multiple questions came up during the discussion regarding property taxes and sales tax for the project, and while the group discussed many aspects of taxes, nothing was decided during this meeting.
Eric and Ashley Niehues of Fairview were the next to address the council.
The Niehueses asked for clarification on if the travel plaza was going in regardless of the end cap.
“As I said before, if you’re going to have an end cap, they’re going to want parking,” Stan said. “That’s just the way it is. Now, if we don’t have an end cap, then the numbers change. Not as many people are going to stop. Therefore, is it economically feasible on our end to put in a large sum of money to build something that’s not going to have all of the people stopping? We would have to take a hard look at that.”
“So, it’s possibly going to be all or nothing?” A. Niehues said.
“When you say ‘all,’ the end cap is a very key part of the project,” Stan Keim said.
“So, basically you’re saying if you don’t get the parking and you don’t get the end cap?” A. Niehues said.
“It could change the project, yes,” Stan Keim said. “The end cap is very important in today’s environment with COVID.”
“What does COVID have to do with it?” E. Niehues said.
“It changed America. It made people travel,” Stan said. “The travel numbers exploded when people had to stay home and they didn’t ride airplanes and buses. That is why the RV thing came up, because RV parks have exploded around the country. That is why it is a good time to do this now.”
“So, that makes sense to me, but what you [the council] said, ‘what do you guys want for your town?’” A. Niehues said. “For me, what I would want for this town is to bring in people, young families. I don’t want anything taken away from our town by having this. There are gas stations that are somewhat close to where we are. I moved specifically into that house, because I know my kids can play at the park. We have a very nice park. There are people at that park every day. I just don’t feel like giving any of that up is an option. We already have hookups for RVs. Nobody parks there. Advertise the existing ones. We don’t need all of that stuff. We have a nice setup here and I would like to see Fairview grow, by bringing in young families.”
“How do you bring them in?” Holthaus said.
“You don’t get rid of the park for their children to play at, and you don’t put semis by it,” A Niehues said.
“We’re not getting rid of the park,” Bletscher said. “The RV hook ups have already been discussed about being taken down.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” A. Niehues said. “I do think that I feel like everything has been done very prematurely. I think we are not looking at all of these scenarios.”
“We have never said that we’re going to disrupt this park,” Vonderschmidt said.
The crowd exclaimed, “Yes, you have!”
“That was the fake news that got put out,” Bletscher said, in reference to a Facebook post that by Jessica McCulloch.
Sarah Homan of Fairview addressed the council with concerns about child trafficking.
“It’s a perfect setup for child trafficking,” S. Homan said.
The crowd erupted, saying, “Whoa!”
“There can be trafficking in any industry,” B. Keim said. “What you’re saying with truckers, that’s just wrong. Every commercial drivers license that is issued a driver has to go through a course regarding human trafficking.”
“I’m not concerned about the truck drivers,” Homan said. “I’m concerned about the activity it’s going to bring to this area.”
“With [U.S.] Highway 75, the way it is situated, people can get off because it’s a hot spot now if all this stuff goes in,” S. Homan said. “People get off of [U.S. Highway 75], you’re going to have regular people coming in, but it’s easy to get off at a truck stop, pick up a kid from the park, get on [U.S. Highway] 75 and be in Nebraska in 15 minutes. That kid is gone and dead. We’re putting our children at risk. That’s my greatest concern.”
Then, Vonderschmidt addressed concerns about the travel plaza affecting the “beautification” of Fairview
“There’s opinions both ways and the progress of this town has got to be priority,” Vonderschmidt said. “The beautification of this town, Stan has shown pictures with the lot he has beautified and put landscaping and everything. It will probably be prettier than it is now. It’s just a ditch, right now.”
Vonderschmidt continued by saying that Fairview had many projects that were happening.
“We’ve got this project. We’ve got the 36 Highway project. We’ve got some COVID relief money. We’ve got a grant on buildings downtown. We’ve got another grant we’re going to apply for. So, we’re not sitting still anymore. We’re moving ahead and if this truck plaza can move ahead with a little bit of ground, 90 feet of parking, its not much to give,” Vonderschmidt said. “Once it’s up, it will blend in so much, you’ll never know it was not there.”
“I’m not worried about what they will do, because I do think it will be nice what they do there,” A. Niehues said. “I’m not worried about the sex trafficking personally. I just don’t want to give up what we have right here at all. The park. Any of it.”
“One of the things to start with, is Stan [Keim] came to us and originally wanted the whole ball park,” Kramer said. “The first thing we told him was, ‘No, you’re not going to get the ball park. We want it left the way it is.’ He offered to even build a new ball park, a new city park. We told him, ‘No.’ We wanted to leave it where it was, and we started talking about the extra truck parking and the RV park, but we haven’t gotten anywhere yet.”
“Which is good,” A. Niehues said. “I’m glad to know that. I feel better knowing that decisions aren’t made. I just hope that no decisions are made until information is out every time, not just because we all have to show up here to get all of these questions answered, because we’re all stressed out over it. Make the information a little more accessible in the future, so that we can talk about it.”
“The meetings are open,” Vonderschmidt said. “The other thing I would like to say is we are elected city council. We can’t have a meeting like this with every issue that comes up in town to see if everyone wants to approve it. You folks voted on this commission to run the city. We have done a pretty good job and I’ve seen a lot of changes in town since I’ve been mayor.”
Jessica McCulloch of Fairview was the next patron to address the council. She asked Stan Keim specifically how many truck spaces they needed to meet the end cap’s requirements.
“They need as close to 40 as possible,” Stan Keim said.
McCulloch then addressed the council about that night’s meeting.
“It’s a regular city council meeting, but it wasn’t called together like a town hall meeting really should be,” McCulloch said “That is something that should go out to the community. I understand that the community doesn’t need to know every single detail, but they have to be informed of it. Something like this is a big change.”
McCulloch and Mark Chester, also of Fairview, brought up noise issues the trucks may cause. McCulloch said she is against the noise of the idling engines, while Chester had concerns about jake braking.
Vonderschmidt said they could look into the concerns of jake braking.
Bill Meyer of Fairview asked additional questions about the additional truck parking and the fencing.
After asking his questions, Meyer said, “I know there was a concern about noise, and I know a person ought to listen to the public about different things. I think the city will do the right thing.”
Casey Votruba asked about security at the travel plaza, and Stan Keim said if security would need it, they would work that out.
After the discussion, the council unanimously approved the building permit for the travel plaza. Since the RV park has been removed from the project, the council will discuss the additional truck parking to the east of the travel plaza at their next meeting
The next Fairview City Council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at the Fairview Community Building.
The approved travel plaza will be located at the junction of U.S. Highways 75 and 36. It will be east of U.S. Highway 75 and south of U.S. Highway 36, just north of the Keim TS Truck Wash. The proposed additional parking is still being discussed, and will potentially be located along Bobcat Road just west of the Fairview ball diamond.
On Friday, Dec. 3, Stan Keim said now that the building permit for the travel plaza has been approved, he plans to get the bid package out soon to contractors.