Monday, February 1, 2016

What you may not know: Week of February 1

Good morning and welcome to February. Here are the items of interest on the agenda for Wednesday's 7 pm meeting of the Appleton Common Council:

Erb Pool

Work continues as expected on plans to replace Erb Pool with a new facility following the 2016 outdoor swimming season, and that project will take another step forward on Wednesday if council votes to approve the Parks and Recreation Committee's recommendation to hire MSA Professional Services to design and engineer the new space.

While council still needs to award the actual contracts for all of the work to be done here, the money to design a new pool, keep the old pool open for the 2016 season, demolish the pool following the season and construct a new facility to open in 2017 were all set aside during our 2016 budget process in November.

For this portion of the process, we received bids from six companies interested in the project and it was our staff's opinion that MSA's projected cost was the lowest of any bidder who had the requisite experience and vision and whose bid contained all necessary components.

Northland Avenue/Richmond Street construction

Last week both the Finance and Utilities Committees voted unanimously to recommend approval of a request to adjust our 2016 Water Distribution Capital Improvement Program to allow for work this summer to replace water infrastructure under the portions of Northland Avenue and Richmond Street that are scheduled to be reconstructed as part of a road project in 2017.

At last week's Finance meeting I asked staff for some detail on how this will impact traffic this summer. We'll be doing our best to avoid closing the entire road at any given time, but even a single lane closure will have a significant impact on the ~24,000 cars that pass through this area each day.

It appears this is the way we'll have to proceed, but it's unfortunate that the State DOT was unable to give us the flexibility to work concurrently with their 2017 road project and avoid having to inconvenience drivers and local businesses for two consecutive summers.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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 25, 2016

What you may not know: Week of January 25

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, and here are the items I'll be watching:

Finance Committee, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

An item related to the Exhibition Center project will appear on the agenda at this meeting and again at Wednesday's Appleton Redevelopment Authority (4 pm) and Community and Economic Development Committee (5 pm) meetings.

The item pertains to some budget overages related to the final stage of the property acquisition and pursuit of agreements between all of the partner municipalities as the final decisions were made to proceed with this project last November. Our contract with Hinshaw and Culbertson, the consulting firm working on this project, set a budget for $80,000 in hourly labor during what had been labeled as "Phase III" of the effort. The actual bill for hourly labor is more than $30,000 over budget.

The explanation we've been given for these overages is the complex nature of the agreements needed and the compressed timeframe generated by the November deadline to close on the property. Portions of this overage can be applied to the project's bonding, meaning the overage will be paid by room tax dollars and not property tax dollars. Nonetheless, I find it troubling that our estimates for the cost of this portion of the project were this far off.

Also at this meeting, we'll have the latest in a series of discussions about a proposed ordinance change that would allow alderpersons to participate in council meetings remotely when they're unable to attend. I've written about this on multiple previous occasions, most recently in December. At this week's meeting we should have details from a test of our technological capacity that will help illuminate this discussion.

Utilities Committee, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Also on Tuesday, we'll learn more about changes in the city's upcoming water main work that will impact traffic this summer at the intersection of Northland Avenue and Richmond Street.

I believe I've mentioned previously that the city and state have been working for a long time on a redesign for this intersection, which is scheduled to be reconstructed in 2017. It's relatively common for a project like this to include reconstruction of the utility infrastructure under the street in an effort to avoid having to rip up the street a second time to make necessary repairs in the future. The city's current five-year plan included a budget item for water main work in this area in 2017, to coincide with the street project.

Unfortunately, we've since received word from the state that it's not going to be feasible to proceed that way. In that event, the second-best option is to do the water main work before the reconstruction, so that once the final concrete is poured we shouldn't need to dig it up again.

As such, on Tuesday the Utilities Committee will be asked to consider a proposal that would move the water main portion of this project up to 2016. There are two notable implications from this change:

  1. First, a budget adjustment will need to be made. Staff has identified four water main projects scheduled for 2016 that can be delayed to allow this project to proceed within the existing money available.
  2. Additionally, this likely means there will be some traffic impact in this area this summer as portions of the road will need to be closed for this work.
I'm assuming we'll have more details on the latter point in the weeks and months to come.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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 11, 2016

What you may not know: Week of January 11

All right, can we take a brief break from talking about yesterday's Packers game to discuss the items coming before the City of Appleton's committees this week?

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

A few weeks ago this body recommended approval for a zoning change that would allow a small new subdivision along the south side of Glenhurst Lane. This week a related item will come before the commission and we'll get a few more details about the plans for this site.

The action item this week is a preliminary plat for the site, now known as Pond View Estates. It will feature 13 single family residential lots and one outlot. You can see the details of the plat on the attachment on this page.

I don't anticipate this item being controversial: The last time it was discussed at City Plan, several residents of the neighboring Villas at Apple Creek came to speak in favor of the change.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 7 am

Some time ago now Alderperson Vered Meltzer submitted a resolution calling for the city to make a change to its ordinance regulating ownership of pet snakes. That item came before the Board of Health as an informational item in December and will be back before them as an action item this Wednesday morning.

The city's current ordinance, passed nearly 40 years ago, bans all snakes over three feet in length. This ordinance is both inconsistent with nearly every other community in the state and, according to some of what we've heard to date, creates some significant challenges for well-meaning snake owners whose pets may have grown larger than expected. The resolution calls for snakes up to six feet long to be allowed.

I'm sure this item will generate plenty of discussion in the weeks to come. I know snakes are a common phobia and there will likely be some level of "ew" factor in the conversation. I'm hopeful that we can get past that and have an honest dialogue about whether banning snakes between three and six feet is actually serving public safety in any real way.

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 6 pm

Way back in November I submitted a resolution calling for the city to make changes to its policy related to secondhand dealers and required holding periods for the items they purchase for resale. I wrote about this item in my December 1 update.

The item has been held on a couple of occasions to allow for further research into what's happening in other communities and to give more secondhand dealers an opportunity to weigh in. It will be back before the Safety & Licensing Committee on Wednesday as an action item.

During this process we've learned more about how some of our neighboring communities handle this, including Green Bay. Green Bay has moved to the seven-day holding period called for in the resolution, but also requires secondhand dealers to take a picture of all items that do not have a serial or identifying number.

This requirement strikes me as the best of both worlds: Having a digital photograph of all items sold to secondhand dealers will make it much easier for potential victims of theft to identify items that may have been theirs but would still allow the secondhand dealers in Appleton to operate on a level playing field with those in neighboring communities.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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 4, 2016

What you may not know: Week of January 4

I hope everyone had a safe, happy, relaxing holiday season. Just as many of you are heading back to work today for the first full week of 2016, the Appleton Common Council is also getting back into the swing of things on Wednesday night at 7 pm with our first scheduled council meeting of the new year. The agenda is relatively light but includes a pair of items I'll be following:

County Highway JJ redesign

Back in early December I wrote about a pair of proposals to redesign the portion of County Highway JJ between Ballard Road and Lightning Drive in an effort to respond to increased traffic (and expected further traffic increases) in the area and safety issues created by the North High School exit directly across from the Kwik Trip entrance.

On December 8 the Municipal Services Committee discussed the pair of proposed options for this redesign but elected not to approve either of them, instead asking for staff to bring back additional options for consideration. I agree with their decision but it's worth noting that this comes with a cost: On Wednesday both the committee (at a special 6:30 meeting) and council will be asked to approve a $24,000 contract amendment for OMNNI Associates to analyze three additional possibilities.

Assuming this amendment passes, the options would be presented at a future Muni Services meeting, likely their scheduled meeting on January 26. I'm sure I'll have more updates on this project as we proceed.

District 8 vacancy

At our last full council meeting in December we opted to delay action related to the newly vacated seat on the council from the city's eighth district. We have the option to appoint a new alderperson to fill the remainder of Polly Dalton's term, which expires in April, but the current election window complicates matters a bit.

Candidates have until Tuesday at 5 pm to file papers to appear on the ballot for the spring election, and last I had heard three candidates had expressed some interest in running for this position. By Wednesday night we'll know how many of them acquired the necessary petition signatures, and if this will be a contested race.

As I've written previously, I think it's a bad practice for council to appoint someone to represent a district where none of us reside. The results of Tuesday's filing deadline will likely determine how we handle this:

  • If more than one candidate has filed to run for this seat, then it's my personal opinion that council has an obligation to stay out of that race and let the voters decide. Appointing one of those candidates would be an implied endorsement of that candidate in the spring election, which I feel is unfair to everyone involved.
  • If only one candidate has filed, then I personally will still oppose appointing them to the seat for the reasons I mentioned above but I suspect council will move on despite my objections. This is what happened when Ms. Dalton was appointed to the seat roughly two years ago.
You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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, December 21, 2015

Happy holidays from District 13!

Good morning everyone,

I wanted to take a moment today to give everyone a heads up that things are going to be quiet for the next couple of weeks around here: All of this week's scheduled committee meetings have been cancelled or postponed and, as December is a five-Wednesday month, next week is a scheduled off week for the Appleton Common Council.

Our next scheduled meetings are on Wednesday, January 6, and I'll be back that week with my usual update.

Until then, have a safe and happy holiday season and I'll see you in the new year!

Monday, December 14, 2015

What you may not know: Week of December 14

I hope everyone is staying safe and dry out there as rain continues into its third consecutive day here in Appleton. If the weather was about 20 degrees colder, I shudder to think about how much snow we'd have.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Common Council will have its regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday at 7 pm or whenever our 6 pm organizational meeting wraps up. Here are some of the items I'll be watching:

District 8 vacancy

The council has gone a few weeks now without a representative from the city's eighth district after Polly Dalton resigned her seat at the end of November. Alderperson Dalton would have been up for re-election in April, and this week we'll consider three options for what to do regarding the remainder of her term:

  • First, we could elect to hold a special election. This is an unrealistic option, however: Minimum public notices would prevent us from holding said election until the first week in February, at which point a new alderperson would hold the job less than two full months before coming up for reelection.
  • We have the option of appointing a new representative for District 8 to fill the remainder of the term. We have done this on multiple occasions before, with Alderpersons Dalton, Coenen and former Alderperson Stueck all getting their seats for the first time this way. 
  • Finally, we could opt to simply leave the seat vacant until residents of the eighth district get to elect their own representative in April.
If you heard my Fox Cities Viewpoint from two weeks ago, you already know that I'm planning on pursuing the third option. As I mentioned above, the special election option is unrealistic due to the short amount of time remaining on the term. That leaves appointment as a possible option, but I don't support it for two reasons:
  1. I'm a firm believer that the residents of a district are the only ones qualified to select their representative. I don't think we should select one for them, and I don't think the challenges created by going one alderperson short for a few months are significant enough to merit taking that right for ourselves.
  2. Last Wednesday we learned that at least three candidates have taken out paperwork to run for this seat in April. Selecting one of them to be appointed to the seat early would be an implied endorsement of the candidate and could give them an unfair advantage in the upcoming election.
Beyond that issue, I introduced most of this week's most pressing topics in last week's update. Here are the items that could be acted upon on Wednesday:
  • Last week the Finance Committee voted to remove a previously-approved amendment that would have addressed an issue related to special assessments for properties transitioning from rural to urban status. That item goes before council this week, and I'm hoping to change it back.
Actually, I guess that's all. Here are updates on the items that will not be voted on this week:
  • The special use permit for a second expanded Community Living Arrangement (CLA) near the corner of Ballard Rd and Milestone Dr was approved by the City Plan Commission. A nearby rezoning request transitioning properties south of Glenhurst Dr to single-family zoning was recommended for approval and will go to council on January 20.
  • The Finance Committee opted to delay action on a resolution calling for alderpersons to be able to participate remotely when absent from meetings until after the first of the year. More technical research needs to happen before this item can proceed.
  • A proposed redesign of County Highway JJ north of North High School was sent back to staff to consider more options. I expect we'll likely discuss it again in late January.
  • A resolution calling for the city to change the ordinances related to secondhand dealers and holding periods for purchased items was held until January to allow time for potentially impacted parties to weigh in on any changes.
You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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, December 7, 2015

What you may not know: Week of December 7

The Appleton Common Council has a very busy committee week ahead, likely to be our only full-schedule committee week between budget adoption in early November and the end of the year. As such, there's a lot going on:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

One of the challenges Appleton (along with a great many similar cities) faces as our population grows older is a significant shortfall in available capacity in our senior living facilities. In my nearly three years serving the city we've seen a fair amount of work done to help address that shortfall here in the 13th district.

When I took office in April of 2013 we had three senior living facilities in the district, all located at the north end of Cherryvale Avenue. A fourth has since been constructed near the corner of Ballard Road and Milestone Drive, and a fifth is in process near the corner of French Road and County Highway JJ.

On Monday the City Plan Commission will be asked to approve a Special Use Permit to allow a sixth such facility to be constructed near the aforementioned new facility at Ballard and Milestone. This facility would add an additional 80 beds of capacity for senior living to the district, bringing us up to 272 within the district. Across the city the total licensed Community Living Arrangement (CLA) capacity would go up to 516, which is less than 1% of Appleton's total population.The Appleton Redevelopment Authority also recently authorized city staff to negotiate with a developer on a possible CLA development on the former Foremost site along the Fox River.

I don't intend to oppose this development as it's serving a very clear community need. It's worth noting, however, that concentrating senior living facilities in one area of the city does create some infrastructural needs. The north end of the 13th district, which now will host more than half of the city's CLA beds, is served by the city's smallest fire station. That station is tasked with responding to all ambulance calls, and may need to add an additional truck and/or staffing in upcoming years to meet the resulting increased demand.

Finance, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

With the 2016 budget process complete the Finance Committee is back on its usual schedule and will be asked to consider a pair of longstanding pending items this week.

First, we will again be asked to consider approval of a draft ordinance allowing absent alderpersons to participate in meetings electronically. I know I've written about this before (most recently in September, I guess), and I support the concept of this ordinance but struggle with some of the challenges regarding how it will work in practice. Some of the ongoing challenges include:

  • Technical issues that make it unclear how much of a meeting an electronic participant will actually be able to see or hear, and whether or not their participation will be able to be effectively recorded along with video of our meetings. I'm hopeful we'll be able to test that this week.
  • Issues involving who can and cannot participate this way. The current ordinance tasks the council president with determining whether or not an absent alderperson has "good cause" for missing a meeting and should be allowed to participate. That's open to a wide variety of interpretation and could cause some real issues. I'd prefer to allow alderpersons a set number of annual absences (two is my preferred number), and leave it up to the individuals to determine how they use them.
Second, we'll also resume discussion on the 2015 Special Assessment policy, which still includes some challenging language regarding streets undergoing "rural to urban conversion." Under current policy the city assesses property owners for the expansion and improvement of their "rural" road when it is annexed into the city or when city expansion requires it to become urbanized. This creates a very specific issue on places like French Road, which was recently repaved (and assessed) and will likely face a second wave of construction when the road is urbanized in future years. Under the current policy property owners with frontage on that street would be assessed both times.

At council several weeks ago I attempted to amend the policy to allow for that second assessment but to give property owners a credit in the amount of the first assessment. This ensures they're still participating in the improvement of their street but eliminates the "double hit" they'd otherwise be feeling after already paying for their street to be resurfaced recently. That amendment passed but was referred back to committee for further discussion.

I remain hopeful that we'll find a way to handle these relatively isolated situations without creating undue hardship on the property owners involved.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 6:30 pm

Later on Tuesday the Municipal Services Committee will meet to discuss, among other things, another item of some significance to many District 13 residents: The design of the proposed reconstruction of County Highway JJ between Lightning Drive and Ballard Road. 

The proposed redesign aims to address some safety issues related to the north entrance/exit of the North High School parking lot, where the combination of inexperienced drivers attempting to turn left with pressure from traffic backing up behind them and the relatively high rate of speed for traffic on Highway JJ has created some significant accidents and near-misses. That issue existed before but has been exacerbated a bit by recent development on the north side of JJ which adds some additional traffic and some pedestrian concerns to the mix.

The Department of Public Works has proposed a design including the following:
  • Construct a raised concrete median east of Ballard Road, from the existing median to 550’ east of Lightning Drive and gapped at Lightning Drive intersection (width varies from 3.3’ to 18’, 5.5’ at most locations). 
  • Provide an enhanced pedestrian crosswalk of Edgewood Drive at the west side of the Appleton North High School (ANHS) entrance. 
  • Construct a single-lane roundabout with east, west, north, and south approaches at the Lightning Drive intersection, with right-of-way sufficient for future roundabout expansion to two lanes, if needed. Construct one 12-foot eastbound and one 12-foot westbound through lane (plus 2.5-foot curb and gutter) 
  • Construct one 4-foot eastbound and one 4-foot westbound bike lane (plus 2.5-foot curb and gutter) 
  • Construct one 5-foot concrete sidewalk along north right-of-way line and one 10-foot asphalt multi-use trail along south right-of-way line. 
  • Construct a dedicated eastbound right-turn lane at the ANHS entrance. 
  • Construct a dedicated westbound left-turn lane at Ballard Road. 
  • Construct a second through lane for westbound traffic at the approach to Ballard Road. 
  • Construct a second through lane for eastbound traffic from Ballard Road to the ANHS right turn lane. 
  • Construct approximately 600’ of Lightning Drive north of Edgewood Drive with one northbound through lane, one southbound through lane, and a two-way-left-turn lane. 
  • Construct a stormwater pond meeting state and local stormwater management requirements northeast of the Edgewood/Lightning intersection. 
The primary objection to this proposal has come from business owners and developers on the north side of the Highway, who would see access to their property restricted by the new design. They've proposed a secondary option which would meet many of the stated goals above but include an opportunity to turn left into their developments. This option carries significant additional construction costs and would require the city to purchase additional property for street right-of-way.

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, this week the Safety & Licensing Committee agenda includes my resolution calling for the city to consider changes to its ordinances regarding secondhand dealers and holding periods. This item was held when the committee met in special session last week. In the interest of shortening an update that's already well over 1300 words, I'll refer any interested parties to my comments on the matter from my previous update.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings 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.