Monday, April 16, 2018

What you may not know: Week of April 16

Before I get to this week's council notes, I wanted to send out my heartfelt thanks to the city's Department of Public Works and Police and Fire Departments for their efforts to keep the city safe and to all of my constituents for their patience and understanding while we all work to dig out from this weekend's massive snow event. It's been a very challenging weekend and Monday for a lot of us and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who has worked to help others get through it.

Now, with that said, this is an important week for the Appleton Common Council. A new council year begins on Tuesday night with the swearing in and re-swearing in of members of the council that were elected and re-elected two weeks ago and the council's committee, board and commission assignments will be re-set on Wednesday. In addition to that, there are a couple other items of interest on agendas:

Mixed Use Library

The Appleton Common Council has already voted to continue negotiations with Commercial Horizons regarding including the library in a proposed mixed use development on the site of the Soldier's Square parking ramp. On Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 the Library Board will meet and their agenda includes the same action item.

It's worth noting once again that this is not a decision on a final design, funding model or budgetary commitment. An affirmative vote by the Library Board would simply be a continuation of the process in partnership with Commercial Horizons in an effort to meet the library's needs as part of development of this space. A development agreement and several other important votes on this project are yet to come.

Re-development on West College Avenue

Elsewhere in long-awaited projects, last week the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a Special Use Permit necessary for a proposed redevelopment of the long vacant former K-Mart site on West College Avenue. The Common Council is expected to vote on that recommendation on Wednesday night. Last week the city released renderings of a proposed plan for the site that calls for retail facing College Avenue and personal storage behind the building.

The former K-Mart site has been vacant for a variety of reasons for the entirety of my tenure on council and many years before that. I'm excited for this opportunity to see something new take shape on this long-blighted property.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, April 2, 2018

What you may not know: Week of April 2

Before I get to the council update, please note that Election Day is Tuesday, April 2. Residents of the 13th district will have a State Supreme Court race and two referendums on their ballots, and most will also have a school board race. Residents of the 13th district vote at Celebration Ministry Center (aka Faith Lutheran) at 3100 E Evergreen Drive, and polls will be open from 7 am to 8 pm. Please plan ahead, as the weather for tomorrow looks a bit ominous.

The Appleton Common Council will also hold our regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday night, and one item on the agenda will likely overshadow most of the others:

Mixed Use Library

Last week in a joint meeting the Appleton Finance Committee and the Library Board's Building and Equipment Committee both voted unanimously to recommend continuing to work with Commercial Horizons on design and a development agreement for a mixed use facility anchored by a new library on the site of the existing Soldier's Square Parking Ramp.

The wording used above is important: Please note that the council action item is simply approval of continuing the process. This is not the approval of a final design, financing model or any of the other final steps that will need to be taken to start construction. If approved, this action item would allow city and library staff to continue to work with Commercial Horizons to develop a plan for the project ahead. This is a big step forward and I'm grateful to both the Finance and Building and Equipment committees for their approval, but much more work has to be done before this project can begin.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, March 26, 2018

What you may not know: Week of March 26

An normal council committee week features one meeting likely to generate a fair amount of discussion:

Joint Meeting of the Library Board Building & Equipment Committee and Appleton Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

After an informational meeting several weeks ago and a public open house two weeks ago, tonight committees from the Common Council and Library Board will come together again and have been asked to make a recommendation on proceeding with a plan proposed by Commercial Horizons to build a new library as part of a mixed-use building on the site of the existing Soldier's Square parking ramp.

I do not know what to expect in terms of discussion tonight but I am grateful to see this discussion continuing to move forward. If you are planning on attending tonight's meeting my advice to you would be to arrive early: Our council chambers have limited seating space and I suspect that space will quickly fill up. We attempted to hold this meeting in a larger venue but that process was complicated by AASD's spring break.

Finally, I will take a moment to address a concern I receive every time we discuss the library: Referendum. At this point there are no plans to put the library project up for referendum. While I understand the sentiment behind seeking that path, staff and alderpersons have spent countless hours informing themselves and preparing to make what they feel is the correct decision here. I don't think it's fair to expect the voters to put in the kind of time it would take to reach that level of understanding on the project. Simply put, I think difficult decisions like this are why we have elected representatives: To apply the time and energy required to make an informed decision when it would be infeasible for the general public to do so.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What you may not know: Week of March 12

The Appleton Common Council has a full slate of committee meetings due up this week, and here are some of the highlights:

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

With the first year of the new pool at Erb Park behind us, we now have a better feel on demand for the facility and its resulting impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. As users flocked to the new pool last summer it created some issues for traffic along nearby streets as parked cars on both sides caused the roads to become very narrow. Parkway Boulevard, Roosevelt Street and Morrison Street near the west edge of Erb Park are only 27, 29 and 32 feet wide, respectively, so parking along those streets created specific challenges.

Last summer the city had to put up some temporary no parking zones to alleviate some of the issues, and on Monday the Municipal Services Committee will be asked to approve a six-month trial of some new restrictions. A map of the proposed restrictions can be seen at the attachment here. They include:

  • Seasonal no parking zones on one side of Morrison Street north of Parkway Blvd and a small portion of Glendale Avenue near Morrison Street.
  • Seasonal no parking zones on one side of Roosevelt Street between Oneida Street and Morrison Street, and along Morrison street south of Roosevelt St.
Assuming these changes pass they will be re-evaluated following the pool's open months and potentially considered for permanent adoption.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Over the last few years the city has experienced some issues with neighboring municipalities incorporating from towns into villages. Cities are allowed to annex properties within towns, and Appleton had boundary agreements with both the Towns of Harrison and Menasha granting the city the ability to bring parcels within portions of those towns into the city when the right time to do so arrived.

When Harrison and the Town of Menasha incorporated into villages (in this case the Villages of Harrison and Fox Crossing) it complicated those agreements and both villages eventually annexed properties that had been listed as part of Appleton's future growth area in the previous agreements. The city has engaged in litigation in both cases.

This week the Finance Committee will be asked to approve an agreement with the Village of Fox Crossing to settle one of those cases. At this time I do not have details on what the committee will be asked to consider: There is no attachment to the item or explanation beyond what I've already said.

Speaking of annexation, on Monday the committee will also be asked to recommend waiving the City's future interest in annexation for another property in Grand Chute, located at 3236 E Northland Avenue (the vacant parcel at the intersection of French Road and Northland). At a previous meeting the committee was informed that the owners of the parcel have interest in coming into the city but accepting the property would also leave the city as a responsible party for potentially costly work that needs to be done on French Road and the intersection in that area. Additionally, our city utilities are not currently extended to that area and bringing them in under Highway 41 and/or 441 would create significant challenges.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

An often-recurring discussion about noise variances as they relate to live music near downtown will come before the Board of Health again on Wednesday morning.

At their last meeting in February the Board voted to recommend denial of a noise variance request for Fox River House for their outdoor summer concerts, citing concerns from neighbors about the volume levels and the frequency of events. Looking back through the city's Granicus archives shows that this item has received significant discussion, debate and occasionally amendments each year since our records moved to their current system in 2014.

At the heart of this debate is a single question: What is a reasonable expectation for property owners who live in a neighborhood at the edge of a thriving downtown? As part of this discussion each year we are reminded that Fox River House and its original music are a big part of the attraction of downtown for a large number of people but they also create challenges for nearby property owners.

At this meeting the board will also be asked to consider a resolution from Alderperson Ed Baranowski calling for a review of the noise variance policy for special events. 

Mixed-Use Development Open House, Thursday, 6-8 pm

The next step in the development of a plan for a new Appleton Public Library will take place this week as city and library staff and the development team will host an event for those interested in learning more about the recommended proposal.

The event will include displays of the proposed project, a 6:30 pm presentation from Mayor Hanna and the development team and a question and answer session. Following this event the process will likely continue at future meetings of the city's Finance Committee and the Library Board's Building Committee.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

What you may not know: Week of February 26

It's a full committee week for the Appleton Common Council but most of the attention will likely center on one meeting:

Joint meeting of the Finance Committee and Library Board's Building & Equipment Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

The process of determining the fate of the Appleton Public Library will take a key step this week as committees of the Common Council and Library Board will meet together to receive details for the first time about a proposal for a mixed-use library project on the current site of the Soldier Square parking ramp.

News about the recommended site and project broke for the first time on Thursday. The proposal includes the library along with $22 million of private elements in the project, including apartments or condos and commercial spaces.

Aside from what's been reported in the media I have not heard anything about the proposal so, like many people, I will be looking forward to seeing the presentation on Monday night and learning more about what's planned. Please note that Monday's presentation is only informational and no official action will be taken. After Monday's meeting I'm hoping we'll have a clear and reasonable timeframe for the next steps in this process.

City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

It will likely be overshadowed by Monday's meeting but on Tuesday the City Plan Commission will take up an item of local interest in the 13th district, as they have two items related to the expansion of the subdivision north of County Highway JJ and west of French Road.

The two items are a proposed rezoning and a preliminary plat addition for the fifth addition to the Emerald Valley Estates subdivision. The proposal calls for 23 new single-family lots located west of Providence Avenue. Two things of note with this proposal:

  • The rezoning calls for the lots to be zoned R1B, which as we've discussed recently is still single-family zoning but allows for smaller lots and a greater percentage of lot coverage than R1A zoning.
  • As I've noted previously, every large or small new development in the northeast corner of the city creates increased strain on limited infrastructure serving this area, including police and fire protection and schools.
There will be more of these rezonings and expansions coming in the years ahead: Much of the property north and west of this development is already expected to be added to this subdivision in future years. The challenges created by that development are not going away and will require increased spending to solve.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.





Monday, February 5, 2018

What you may not know: Week of February 5

The Appleton Common Council has our first full council meeting of the month on Wednesday and most of the items on the agenda are things we've previously discussed:

Landfill Expansion

As I mentioned two weeks ago, Outagamie County has started the process of getting approvals to expand their landfill between French and Holland Road. The next space used is expected to be at the northeast corner of their existing footprint, nearest to the corner of Highway 41 and French Road.

This expansion is still a long time away but Outagamie County is getting out ahead of the permitting process, which takes some time to complete. As I mentioned in my last update, at this time the only action the city is taking is appointing our negotiating representatives to protect our interests as this project moves along in future years.

Exhibition Center Financing

Last week the Appleton Redevelopment Authority voted 5-2 to approve the concept of a proposed borrowing package calling for bonds to be issued as the final funding mechanism for construction of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center, so that process can finally move along. Barring any further setbacks, that transaction is set to be finalized the first week in April.

In the meantime, the city's short term loan to the ARA to cover the costs of the project is still in place. As of March 1 the city will have lost an estimated $237,500 in interest income on the money loaned to ARA. Two weeks ago the Finance Committee unanimously approved a recommendation calling for the city to attempt to recoup that lost income as part of the facility's final borrowing. That resolution appears on Wednesday's council agenda.

I expect we will approve this resolution, but actually recouping the funds would require the consent of the nine other member municipalities involved in the project. I can't speak to how they will react to this request.

New Subdivision along Cherryvale

Two weeks ago the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a proposed final plat for the new Creekside Estates subdivision, a collection of 13 single-family lots along Cherryvale Avenue south of the creek. The plat remains largely unchanged from what has been previously discussed, and I expect it to pass council this week without issue.

The only change of note in this project relates to the proposed six-foot berm along the creek side of the properties: The Board of Zoning Appeals recently voted to reject a request for a variance that would have allowed this berm, but I've since been informed that a process remains in place for the berm to be approved and installed as planned. This is a positive for all involved, as the berm would protect both the privacy of the owners of these new properties, who will have the Apple Creek Trail running adjacent to their property, and the privacy of property owners on the north side of the creek.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.

Monday, January 29, 2018

What you may not know: Week of January 29

January has five Wednesdays this year, and typically the week of the fifth Wednesday would be an off week for the Appleton Common Council. This week, however, one special meeting is scheduled and it's a pretty significant one:

Appleton Redevelopment Authority, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

The permanent financing process for the Fox Cities Exhibition Center will hopefully take another step forward this week as the ARA, who will hold the final debt for the project, is expected to act upon the Appleton Common Council's recommendation regarding the funding option.

On January 17 the council voted to recommend a borrowing package presented by Robert W. Baird and Company that called for the project to be financed via bonding instead of private placement of the debt, which had previously been presented to us as the city's best option. The biggest difference between the two options is the variability of the interest rate: Bonding provides a guaranteed rate for the duration of the repayment, while private placement rates would have been adjusted every five years based on interest rate fluctuation.

On Wednesday the ARA will receive a presentation from Baird on the council-recommended option. If they wish to approve that option, they will also need to rescind a previous action taken in August that advanced them down the private placement path. Assuming they take both of those steps, Baird will be able to start the 60-day bonding process. Between now and the end of that process we will need all of our partner municipalities to sign onto the final agreement.

If everything remains on schedule, the final authorization to sell bonds could happen as soon as the first week in April. I'm hopeful the ARA will take action this week to keep this process moving forward, as the costs for delay are significant: These final loans will repay short term loans from the city's general fund, which continues to lose out on potential interest income while waiting to be made whole. Last week the Finance Committee approved a resolution calling for the city's lost interest income to be repaid as part of the bonding process. Nonetheless, that lost income figure will continue to grow until permanent financing for the project is in place.

You can see all of this week's meeting agendas and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Good governance happens in the open, and I remain committed to raising awareness on the issues coming before us.