Monday, September 22, 2014

What you may not know: Week of September 22

It's a busy committee week for the Appleton Common Council, with three items on our agendas that are certain to draw some attention:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Back in July five alderpersons submitted a resolution calling for the city to review its policy on painted signs and murals. The review was prompted by at least one painted sign within the city that is not in compliance with our current ordinances and will have to be removed unless some action is taken.

Council eventually approved the resolution calling for a review, and on August 25 the City Plan Commission received a first draft of a staff proposal to modify the ordinance. The commission opted to refer the matter to staff again for further clarification, and today we'll get our first chance to review their new draft.

Allowing painted signs like the one on the Wilmar building seems like a no-brainer, but allowing painted signs at all opens the door for a variety of interesting "gray area" situations. If we allow some painted signs then we have to either decide to allow all signs or establish criteria for how the city will decide what signs aren't allowed. So we run the risk of either allowing art some people may find offensive or having to define what is or isn't art. Both possibilities come with some challenges, so I suspect we'll have an interesting conversation.

Joint meeting of the Utilities and Parks and Recreation Committees, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

A big part of the city's long-term stormwater plan will be up for debate Wednesday night when two committees come together to discuss the future of Lions Park.

As you may know, the city is engaged in a multi-year, multi-phase effort to reduce flooding and stormwater issues near Theodore Street on the city's southeast side. A pair of "100-year" flooding events in a relatively short period of time led to major issues in this neighborhood and sparked some movement to eliminate or alleviate the risk in the future.

The city is currently wrapping up one phase of that project, which involved installation of underground stormwater tanks under the parking lot at East High School. The next phase could involve the repurposing of Lions Park into a "dry pond," and it could happen as soon as 2020.

The current and completed projects at East would alleviate roughly 41% of the flooding experienced in a 100-year event in the areas mentioned above. Repurposing Lions Park as a dry pond would remove another 43% of the issue, but using it for that purpose would eliminate much of the facility's current use. The park currently contains a baseball field and playground equipment, and retaining the baseball field at a redesigned facility likely would not be feasible. The dry pond would not have water in it except during flooding events, however, so some recreational uses like a soccer field or volleyball courts could be added for dry times. In addition, the repurposed park could be a candidate to have an ice rink installed during the winter.

This project currently falls outside of the five-year plan, and at this meeting members of the two committees will be asked to consider how they'd like to proceed. The committee could decide to go forward with the project and ask for it to happen in 2020, could recommend abandoning the project entirely or could back-burner it for now and allow the city to work on stormwater issues elsewhere.

Safety and Licensing, Thursday, 5 pm

Like many cities around the country, Appleton has recently taken possession of a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) surplus military vehicle through the federal 1033 program. That program has come under fire in light of recent events in other communities, though, and last week at our full council meeting two alderpersons submitted a resolution calling for council to review our policy on accepting surplus items, review the expenses that come with maintaining and preparing officers to use the MRAP vehicle and look at possibly returning or disposing of it. Nick Penzenstadler of the Post Crescent has more on the resolution.

The decision to accept equipment like the MRAP is a challenging one. I'm certainly aware of concerns regarding the "militarization" of police forces around the country, but it would also be a tremendous shame if the city ever faced a situation where members of the public and/or our officers could have kept safer via the use of free equipment we elected to return.

I'm not sure where we'll end up coming down on this issue, but I think the opportunity to have the conversation is a good thing.

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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