Monday, April 20, 2015

What you may not know: Week of April 20

First and foremost, this is my first post since the April 7 spring elections and I wanted to take a moment to thank each and every one of the 357 voters who cast a ballot for me in District 13. It's been an honor and a privilege representing you for the past two years and I'm grateful for the opportunity to do it for two more. 

Due to a scheduling quirk involving the timing of the election, the common council was off last week but returns to action on Tuesday with the swearing in of our three new alderpersons and the official start of my new term. Following meetings to discuss and potentially amend our council rules on Tuesday and Wednesday, we'll have our normally scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night. Our agenda is largely quiet, but does feature one item that will likely be of interest to many residents of the 13th district:

Evergreen/Lightning rezoning

Back on March 23 the City Plan Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of a proposal calling for 22 acres of vacant land at the northeast corner of the intersection of Evergreen and Lightning Drives to be rezoned. If approved, the portions of the property that border Evergreen would be zoned commercial (some of which is already zoned that way now) and the remainder would be changed to R3, which would allow multifamily housing to be developed there.

I briefly discussed this issue before it came before the Plan Commission, and I've heard a fair amount from neighboring property owners concerned about the impact this development may have on their quality of life and/or property values. Eighteen of them signed a petition against this proposed change. I supported the proposal at the Plan Commission and, in the interest of full disclosure, I'd like to share the letter I sent to the petition signers to explain why I did so. The letter is somewhat lengthy but, as you'll see, I had a lot to cover.

Dear (property owner),

My name is Kyle Lobner, and I’m the alderperson representing our district on the City of Appleton’s Common Council. I wanted to take a moment to write to you today in response to the petition you signed which was submitted to the City Plan Commission and council on March 23.

I understand that you and many of your neighbors are concerned about a proposed residential development across the Apple Creek corridor from your property. I heard from many of you in the days leading up to the Plan Commission meeting and have heard from more in the week since. I hope you’ll give me an opportunity to address some of the concerns I’ve heard in relation to this proposed rezoning and to tell you what the next steps will be.

As I’m sure you’re aware, the 22 acres across the creek from your homes are privately owned and a large portion of them (with the exception of the smaller parcel zoned as Temporary Agricultural) are zoned commercial. I understand the appeal of keeping that property as it is to maintain the view from your homes and/or habitat for wildlife, but as a city we cannot reasonably expect developers to buy developable property and simply allow it to sit vacant. The area we’re discussing is not a park. It’s a series of privately-owned parcels whose owner has a right to expect to be able to build on them.

If this property is not going to sit vacant, then the question becomes, “What should be allowed there?” As I mentioned above, the majority of the parcels being discussed are currently zoned as commercial property. If developed as commercial space, the 22-acre area in question could be used for an office building of an estimated 10,000 square feet with a requirement of nearly 500 parking spaces. A development of that magnitude would impact your view, traffic and quality of life in the neighborhood significantly more than anything currently being proposed.

I’ve also heard what I believe to be an unfair assumption that the proposed developments will be ugly or unsightly in some way and as such will damage the value of the neighborhood. I would encourage you to remember that another collection of properties near yours, the Villas at Apple Creek, are also zoned for multifamily use. I think that development has been a welcome addition to the city, and I would be surprised to discover it has negatively impacted property values. The proposed development here calls for market rate apartments, and in a competitive marketplace these apartments won’t be rented unless the space is attractive and well-maintained. The developers have not applied for any tax credits or housing subsidies.

In response to some of your concerns, I reached out to our City Assessor to see if she had any concerns about how this development may impact your property values. She told me that, “This is one location of which I have no concerns regarding the effect on neighboring property values.  I was happy to see this proposed multifamily use.  The 205 foot treed buffer to the north is adequate to protect the single family.  That buffer which is quite wooded contains the recreational trail is zoned Nature Conservancy and thus is not buildable.”

I’ve also heard concerns about how this development may impact traffic on Lightning Drive. I passed that question along to our city traffic engineers, who told me, “we don’t have any traffic-related concerns with this rezoning.  Lightning Drive and Evergreen Drive have been designed to safely handle the traffic that could be generated by the proposed rezoning.”

I absolutely understand the appeal of keeping the property across the creek from your homes vacant and wooded as it currently stands, but I hope you’ll understand why it’s simply not feasible to do so. In the absence of that option, I believe the proposed development represents a good opportunity to develop this space with minimal impact on your quality of life or property values. As such, I voted to recommend approval of the rezoning when it came before the City Plan Commission last week.

I also understand that many of you will disagree with my decision, and I wanted to make sure you’re aware of the opportunity to share your views. The Appleton Common Council will vote on the proposed rezoning at their April 22, 7 p.m. meeting at the sixth floor of the City Center (100 N Appleton St). You’re welcome to come and address the council, but if you plan to do so we ask that you please come a little early (6:45 or so is usually early enough) and sign up to speak on the sheet at the back of the room.

Thanks for taking the time to weigh in on this issue, and also taking the time to read this lengthy letter explaining my rationale. I know it’s possible many of you will continue to disagree with my decision, but I hope at the very least you’ll understand why I feel this way.


Kyle Lobner 

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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