Monday, June 9, 2014

What you may not know: Week of June 9

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week planned and I'm a little behind telling you about it, so let's get right to the updates:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 5 pm 

For months now the city and the Appleton Redevelopment Authority have been reviewing plans for a potential development on the site of the city's former Foremost Dairy plant, on the Fox River just south of the College Avenue bridge. Today that effort will take another step as staff is recommending the Community and Economic Development Committee approve a development agreement with Vetter Denk Ganther that would allow a housing development of between 90-100 units to be constructed on this site.

Redevelopment of this site carries some clear benefits for the city, as getting this property back on the tax rolls would help city revenues in the long term and also assist in repaying some of the costs incurred while remediating the site. There are, however, some issues to consider when putting a large development adjacent to an existing neighborhood. The issues largely center around the fact that the entire development (and potentially its emergency needs) will need to be served by one narrow street that currently is frequently parked up on both sides for Lawrence students and visitors. One side of parking on the street is likely to be removed to help ease the challenge.

This narrow street and the proposed changes to it create some potential safety, emergency access and parking issues that need to be addressed. However, if those concerns can be resolved I think this development poses a remarkable opportunity to help a valuable, long-vacant space evolve into its next use.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Parking challenges downtown have been a longstanding impediment for many residents both inside and outside the city who would otherwise utilize many of the area's attractions. It's possible that a new approach to parking downtown could be coming soon, and we'll hear more about it at Tuesday night's Municipal Services meeting.

To this point policing non-metered time limit parking has posed a manpower challenge, as it requires multiple visits to document that a car is present in a space and come back later to potentially issue a citation for the car still occupying that space, if they're still there. However, the technology exists now to make that documentation much simpler with license plate scanners. Applying this system across downtown could allow us to remove parking meters and simply install two-hour parking in its place, while still having the ability to ensure two-hour parking regulations are followed.

Of course, implementing a plan like this will come with a cost and any new technological installation will have its hiccups. Additionally, there will likely be some surveillance concerns as devices will be logging license plates to track parking space usage. I'm looking forward to hearing conversation on the pros and cons of this possibility. For this meeting this is only an information item, so no action will be taken.

Safety & Licensing, Thursday, 5 pm

Outdoor dining has been a growing trend in our downtown area, but regulating alcohol served outside has posed a significant challenge over time. Our current ordinance allows bars with a Special Use permit to serve alcohol on the amenity strip in front of their building provided the area is enclosed with some kind of decorative barrier and a server is outside to keep an eye on the area.

Those restrictions serve a purpose, of course, but they also create situations where sometimes the temporary barriers have to go up and a server has to be stationed outside just so one or two people can use the space. A few weeks ago Appleton Downtown Inc. approached us to ask us to consider revisions to the rules listed above.

I'm torn on this issue. I can understand the business' reluctance to station a server outside just to supervise one or two tables, and can support the request to remove that requirement provided the establishments are still able to monitor the outdoor tables in some way. I'm more reluctant to allow the removal of the barrier, however. I think having some kind of enclosure around the outdoor cafe, even if it's just a rope, provides a clear indication of where alcohol is and is not allowed and creates one more impediment, even if it is a small one, to prevent people on the sidewalk from passing through the cafe and within arm's reach of someone's drink or purse.

We've been asked to consider changes to these ordinances at least partly because existing sidewalk cafe owners have done a good job of preventing these outdoor spaces from becoming an issue. I can respect that and thank them for their responsibility, but I think some safeguards need to remain in place to prevent this from developing into a problem going forward.

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. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

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