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.

Monday, January 22, 2018

What you may not know: Week of January 22

The Appleton Common Council has a busy committee week ahead, and here are some of the highlights:

Municipal Services Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

On Monday afternoon the Municipal Services Committee will learn about and have their first opportunity to react to Outagamie County's plans for the expansion of their landfill site.

The agenda for this meeting includes a resolution designating the city's representatives for negotiations with the Village of Little Chute and Outagamie County regarding the placement of a new landfill next to the existing landfill between French and Holland Road. The resolution cites no timeline for how much longer the county expects to use their current landfill facility or how soon they'll need a new one. The new site, located near the southeast corner of Highway 41 and French Road, is within 1500 feet of the border with Appleton, making the city an impacted municipality.

Again, however, I will reiterate that the action item on the agenda is simply an acknowledgement of the proceeding and a formal action to appoint the city's negotiating representatives: City Attorney Jim Walsh and Director of Public Works Paula Vandehey. I anticipate we will learn a fair amount about the plans and procedures on Monday afternoon but no further formal actions will be taken.

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Last week the Finance Committee and Common Council voted to approve a recommendation that the final Fox Cities Exhibition Center borrowing happen via bond and not private placement of debt, as had been the previous plan. Now, the next step is determining what happens in response to the city's lost interest income while fronting the money for the project.

Initial plans for the Expo Center financing called for the project to have two borrowing phases, a construction loan to cover expenses incurred during the project and a final borrowing package once all of the final costs were known. The city never acquired the former loan, however, due to a misunderstanding on the timeline for the latter loan. Instead, the city paid bills for the construction of the facility out of its cash reserves.

Because those cash reserves were tapped for longer than we had previously expected, the city has lost some of its previously budgeted interest income. Recent estimates suggest that by March 1 that lost interest income will be about $237,500 and will continue to go up until the final bonding is in place around the first week in April. Last Wednesday Alderman Ed Baranowski introduced a resolution calling for the city to include lost interest income in the FCEC's final borrowing package with the intention of making the city whole for revenue lost.

I understand the premise of this resolution but I'll be curious to see if or how any of the partner municipalities in the FCEC project react to it. I think Alderman Baranowski's request is reasonable but I think we'll have to be careful in how we discuss it to make it clear that we're simply trying to recoup our losses, not attempting to make a profit because we loaned the money ourselves instead of getting it from a bank.

City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4:30 pm

Last week the Common Council voted to approve a rezoning seeking to open the door for the creation of 13 new single family lots along the east side of Cherryvale Avenue south of Apple Creek. This week that process will take another step forward as the City Plan Commission will be asked to make a recommendation on the proposed final plat for this new subdivision.

There are no material changes between what has been previously proposed and what is in this final plat. The plans continue to call for 13 single-family lots along Cherryvale with an average of 11,600 square feet and an average width of 58 feet. The lots will be a little narrower than what is allowed under R1A zoning (hence their recent rezoning to R1B) but will be very deep and as a result will be larger than many R1A lots. The preliminary plat calls for a small sliver of property at the north end of the development to be dedicated to the public and a 16,000+ square foot outlot at the north end of the subdivision that will not be developed at this time.

Additionally, last week the Board of Zoning Appeals voted to deny this subdivision developer's request to install a six-foot berm along the rear of these properties near the Apple Creek Trail. The vote was split on this measure and I'm working to learn what happened. I'm hopeful the Board will reconsider this decision, as the berm would be beneficial for the privacy of both property owners in this new subdivision and owners of property across 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 15, 2018

What you might not know: Week of January 15

Appleton's first Common Council meeting of 2018 is scheduled for this Wednesday but before we get there we have some significant committee work to take on:

Special Finance Committee, Monday, 4:30 pm

Last week at our regular meeting the Finance Committee heard from representatives from R.W. Baird regarding a possible option to use revenue bonds in place of our previously proposed financing model (placing the debt with local banking institutions) to finance the construction of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center, which held its grand opening on Thursday.

Based on our previous conversations we know that the bond option is almost certainly going to be preferable to the previous financing model: The estimated interest rate is lower up-front and is fixed, as compared to a variable rate in the bank financing model. At the last Finance meeting chairperson Kathleen Plank asked for a side-by-side comparison of the two models to use to make our recommendation.

Unfortunately, as of Sunday night there were no items attached to the agenda for Monday afternoon's meeting and the requested comparison had not been shared with members of the committee. I'm both frustrated and disappointed that the committee is expected to make a recommendation on a borrowing package in excess of $30 million but will have received at most a few hours to review the proposals before our meeting. While I know what I anticipate will be the best option in this case, I cannot comfortably commit to supporting a transaction of this magnitude without having the requested comparison and time to review it. At a bare minimum, I intend to ask the committee to hold this item.

If action is taken on this item it will appear on the full council agenda on Wednesday alongside these items we've discussed before:

New Subdivision Development Agreement

Last week the Finance Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a development agreement for "North Edgewood Estates," a proposed 129-lot single family development north of County Highway JJ and east of French Road. It's the first step towards approval of a new project expected to be completed in phases over the next ten years. Assuming the agreement is passed by council on Wednesday the property will still need to be annexed into the city, rezoned and platted.

Last week I noted some of the challenges created by continued development on the north side as it relates to school enrollment and fire protection, two cases where resources in our neighborhood are already stretched pretty thin. In response to last week's post I was also reminded that more development on the north side will lead to additional congestion on some of our busier streets, although some of that will be alleviated as the intersection of Highway JJ and French Road is currently in our five-year plan for improvements. 

Cherryvale Avenue rezoning

Back in December we discussed a proposed rezoning of property along Cherryvale Avenue south of the creek, where developers have asked for the ability to create 13 single family lots zoned R1B. Most of the property is currently zoned R1A, with a small sliver at the south end of the proposal currently zoned R2.

The primary differences between R1A and R1B zoning are the minimum lot sizes and lot widths. At the City Plan Commission meeting last month we learned that the latter was the reason for the developer's request: The shape of the parcel between Cherryvale and the creek makes it possible to establish 13 lots that meet the minimum square footage requirements for R1A zoning but not the minimum width.

The developers asking for this rezoning are looking for an opportunity to start another project similar to one they recently finished along Glenhurst Lane between Lightning and Milestone Drive. That project was very successful and well-received by the neighbors, and I think seeing it alleviated some neighbors' concerns about what this development might look like.

Council will be asked to approve the rezoning on Wednesday night. Additionally, on Monday night the Board of Zoning Appeals will be asked to approve a request to allow construction of a six-foot high berm along the rear of these properties that should further reduce their impact on property owners across the creek.

Commercial Quadricycles

After months of discussion, last Wednesday the Safety & Licensing Committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of a repeal of the city's relatively recent ban on consumption of alcohol on commercial quadricycles and the framework for a new ordinance on how such businesses would be allowed to operate in the city.

After some deliberation and consideration of how this regulation occurs in other cities, most notably Green Bay, the committee opted to recommend approval of an ordinance framework as follows:
  • Repeal the current ordinance banning alcohol on quadricycles.
  • Expand the city's definition of limousine to allow quadricycles to be licensed as limousines.
  • Grant the Police Department the authority to approve or deny proposed quadricycle routes and establish an appeal process to come before the Safety & Licensing committee if an applicant feels a route was unfairly denied.
  • Create provisions in the city's current ordinances on limousines to create a penalty for operating outside of approved routes and creating a process for revoking a license for repeated offenses of said provision.
The types and volume of beverages allowed on the quadricycle and a variety of other provisions are already covered by state statute and had previously been adopted into Appleton's city ordinances. Violations of the state statute carry significant penalty: A first offense calls for a fine of not less than $1000 and a permanent revocation of the driver's license to operate a commercial quadricycle.

Given the framework listed above and the accompanying state statute, I'm comfortable opening the door for businesses to allow alcohol on quadricycles and I'm confident that they'll be careful to avoid causing any issues or challenges.

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 8, 2018

What you may not know: Week of January 8

The Appleton Common Council returns from our holiday break this week with an abbreviated schedule of committee meetings, but several items of interest at one of them:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

If you've been following the news then you're likely familiar with the fact that the Fox Cities Exhibition Center is scheduled to host its grand opening this week but some work remains between the participating communities to determine how the project will be funded. Our understanding all along was that financing would take place via local banks, which would allow us to both keep the money being spent in the community and avoid costs associated with selling revenue bonds. This idea has not been well received by some of the other communities participating in the project.

As such, tonight the Finance Committee will hear from representatives of Robert W. Baird and Company on potential funding options. Hopefully this issue can be resolved soon so a final funding source can be in place. The project is currently being funded by a short-term loan from the city to the Appleton Redevelopment Authority.

Meanwhile, another item of local interest to the 13th district is on the same agenda: Tonight the Finance Committee will be asked to recommend approval of a development agreement for a proposed 129-lot single family subdivision east of French Road and north of County Highway JJ. The new neighborhood would be known as "North Edgewood Estates" and would be north of the current apartment development off of Paris Way. It's expected to be constructed in phases between now and 2028.

Continued development is, largely speaking, good news for the city and its taxpayers as it continues to expand the city's tax base. Every time new development occurs on the north side, however, I feel compelled to mention that this continues to place added strain on limited resources. Students from this development will likely attend Huntley Elementary, already the city's largest elementary school. Additionally, this neighborhood will be served by Fire Station #6, the only station in the city staffed with just one fire truck. Addressing the additional needs created by continued development in this area will be necessary at some point and likely expensive.

Assuming council approves this proposed agreement many more steps will need to take place before construction gets underway: The property will need to be annexed into the city (it's currently in the Town of Grand Chute), rezoned and platted before any work can begin.

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

The Safety & Licensing Committee has been discussing the possibility of allowing alcohol on commercial quadricycles for a few months now, but I'm hopeful we'll be able to reach a recommendation this Wednesday to pass along to the full council.

The city banned alcohol on the cycles, often referred to as "pedal pubs," early in my tenure on council but has opted to reexamine that decision in light of the success and non-offensive nature of such vehicles both here in the city and beyond. The challenge in the discussion to this point has been figuring out how the city would regulate these vehicles.

Last week I met with the City Attorney's office in an effort to outline an ordinance structure that would allow the cycles to operate but keep them off of some of Appleton's busiest streets (most notably College Avenue and Richmond Street). State statute is already very specific on what is allowed on the vehicles and has very strict penalties, including a permanent ban from operating a commercial cycle, for any who fail to follow. I suspect the framework we've created will allow this resolution to go forward but will also require operators of these cycles to proceed very carefully.

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.