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Bait shop hooks zoning change in Sterling

Back-to-back special meetings expedite process

STERLING – It took a little longer than anticipated, but owners of a local fishing gear store can add the words “live bait shop” to the signage.

After back-to-back special meetings of the Plan Commission and City Council on Thursday, a zoning amendment was passed to allow Shannon and Heidi Scalise to sell live bait – just in time for this weekend’s Cabela’s King Kat Tournament in Dixon.

“This has been a long process – 2 months in the making,” Heidi Scalise said. “But we’re very happy with the end result.”

The Scalises own and operate the Fine Line Body Art studio and the fishing business in the former Sauk Medical Clinic building at 705 W. Third St. Shannon makes custom fishing rods, and the couple wanted to expand the fishing venture by bringing live bait into the shop. A seemingly simple request became ensnared in an oddity of the city’s antiquated zoning code.

The building has a B-2-1 zoning designation, which by definition, would be fine for the expanded use. Decades ago, however, someone felt it was important to specifically cite live bait shops among the uses in a B-3 district, a zoning designation for more intensive use.

The owners were told by the city they would have to file a petition to the Plan Commission for a zoning change to accommodate the live bait, which they did in early April.

On May 15, the Plan Commission tabled the request to rezone to B-3. The commission decided that amending the B-1-1 zoning district to allow live bait shops as a permitted use would be a better option. The amendment also would allow live bait shops in a B-2-1 area.

But without special meetings, the earliest the new request could have been approved was at the June 16 City Council meeting – too late for the big fishing tournament.

The special Plan Commission meeting was set for June 5, and at Monday’s council meeting, Heidi Scalise asked for a special council meeting immediately after the planning session.

With several members planning to be out of town, the council scrambled to assemble a quorum and honor the request.

The Plan Commission on Thursday voted to withdraw the first petition that had been tabled to give the business B-3 designation. The recommendation to amend the B-1-1 district to allow live bait shop as a permitted use was approved 6-0.

Joe Martin, one of four aldermen at the special council meeting, conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Skip Lee.

“I would like to thank the Plan Commission, Amanda [Schmidt], and the council members here tonight so we could help someone go forward with their business efforts,” Martin said.

Heidi Scalise also thanked the commission and council members for their extra efforts.

“I know Joe [Martin] came here during his lunch break from work,” Scalise said. “We wouldn’t have had a fourth without him.”

Shannon was home trying to get things ready for the big weekend. Heidi said they are behind schedule, but should be able to pull everything together in time.

“We had some orders on hold,” Heidi said. “Now we can call them and start the process. We wanted to make sure this was a done deal before we brought in all the inventory.”

She said this has been a learning experience for the couple.

“There was a lot of confusion trying to figure out where to go and who to turn to for answers,” Scalise said. “But I learned a lot about patience and taking things step by step.”

Even amid the odd circumstances, she said she never doubted that the system would work for them.

“I never lost faith in the process,” Scalise said. “I have a good view of city officials.”

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