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.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What you may not know: Emergency Council meeting scheduled for 12/19

My apologies for the delay in my weekly update this week. Usually when I skip a week it's because there's not much going on and I have little to share. This week the opposite is true: So much is going on and it's changing so rapidly that any information I post could be outdated by the time I publish it.

With that said, last night I learned that our special council meeting scheduled for Wednesday has been moved to tonight (Tuesday, December 19) and is now an emergency meeting to allow the city to take action on ten items related to pending developments on the city's "Bluff Site," the current home of Fox Banquets, and the Zuelke Building.

These discussions have been underway for some time and likely would have reached council in 2018 under normal circumstances, but unfortunately actions taken by the state and federal government have left us in a situation that is far from normal. In each of these cases processes have had to be accelerated to take action in advance of major changes to tax laws. In both cases, the city's contributions to the projects via Tax Increment Financing (TIF) could be taxable under the new federal tax laws. In the case of the Zuelke Building there are also concerns about the availability of Historic Preservation Tax Credits, whose funding is now in question under a new state budget.

In both cases, those changes could create major funding issues for these projects that would increase their costs at bare minimum, and at worst could impact their viability. As such, council will come together in special session tonight to attempt to get agreements hammered out while we still can under the old rules.

Bluff Site

Seven of the ten action items for tonight are related to the Bluff Site and are intended to facilitate development of a new $49.5 million corporate headquarters for U.S. Venture, Inc. Negotiations on this project have been underway for some time, but they're drawing to a close a little faster than anticipated in response to the factors listed above. The seven items up for consideration tonight include:

  • A development agreement with U.S. Venture for the project, outlining among other things the city's proposed contribution to the project, expected tax credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the expected final value of the new facility ($49.5 million).
  • The city's commitment to own a parking ramp under the new development.
  • Related to the previous item, a commitment to provide 1000 parking stalls for use by U.S. Venture.
  • Approval of the city acquiring the necessary property for the project.
  • Approval of the concept (but not final design) and construction of a parking structure under the building.
  • Modifications to Oneida Street near the development site.
  • Vacation of nearby streets as necessary for the development.
Zuelke Building

Last week in closed session the Community and Economic Development Committee learned of accelerated plans for possible renovations to the Zuelke Building, located at the corner of College Avenue and South Oneida Street. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places but has fallen into a bit of disrepair in recent years. Last week the Committee was briefed on a proposal that would renovate the building to include upper floor apartments, improved office spaces and the addition of some underground parking. The three items that need to be approved tonight to continue the project are:
  • A development agreement, once again outlining the expected city contribution, expected contributions via Historic Tax Credits and the expected final value of the improved facility (not less than $10 million). The facility is currently valued at slightly less than $2 million.
  • Financial reimbursement of a portion of the project expenses via Tax Increment Financing to an amount not to exceed $2,019,500.
  • An easement to allow access to the proposed underground parking through the corner of Houdini Plaza at the south side of the building.
Tax Increment Financing

Both of these proposed projects are located within the city's recently created Tax Increment Financing District #11, and the city's expenditures in and related to these projects would largely be funded using that system. Over the coming days and weeks some large numbers are likely to be thrown around but it's important to remember that expenditures funded by Tax Increment Financing do not result in increased property taxes. This is probably a good time for a recap on how TIF works:
  • The amount of property tax revenue going to the four taxing entities (the city, county, school district and FVTC) from properties within the district is frozen for the duration of the TIF financing period.
  • Money is borrowed to finance the TIF's expenditures, which may include infrastructure improvements, developer incentives, etc, with the goal of increasing property values within the district.
  • As the property values within the district increase, so does the amount of property tax revenue collected. Any revenue over the "frozen" amount listed above is the increment, and is used to pay down the borrowing.
  • Eventually the debts are repaid and the TIF district is closed. At that time, the taxing entities are again allowed to collect the full value of the property taxes.
I am frustrated by the speed with which these projects need to be approved and, as a result, the limited opportunities for council and community review. In the end, however, the timing issue is out of our hands and, barring something of major significance coming up tonight, I anticipate council will take action to approve these items and welcome these two projects and the opportunity they present to improve the economic status of our city.

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.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

What you may not know: Week of December 11

After a slow few weeks around and following the Thanksgiving holiday, the Appleton Common Council has a very busy committee week scheduled this week. Here are some of the highlights:

Parks and Recreation, Monday, 6:30 pm

Jones Park has been closed and largely inaccessible for some time now due to the ongoing construction work at the neighboring Fox Cities Exhibition Center. With that work wrapping up soon, the city will be in position to discuss and take steps to construct a newly renovated park that better suits its new surroundings and serves as a link between downtown Appleton and the Fox River.

On Monday the Parks and Recreation Committee will get their first look at what the future of Jones Park could look like as Zimmerman Architectural Studios will have a presentation of the renovation design. Work on this project is expected to start in the spring.

City Plan Commission, Tuesday, 4 pm

Another new subdivision plan for the 13th district is scheduled to come before the City Plan Commission on Tuesday afternoon. This time the specific property is located along Cherryvale Avenue, just south of the bridge across the creek. The plan calls for the property to be divided into 13 single-family lots and rezoned from its current R1A (and a small sliver of R2) to R1B.

The primary difference between R1A and R1B zoning is simply lot size and required setbacks from the road:

  • R1A zoning requires a minimum lot size of 8000 square feet, while R1B zoning requires 6000 square feet.
  • R1A zoning requires a minimum lot width of 70 feet, while R1B zoning requires 50 feet.
  • R1A allows for a maximum of 40% of the lot to be covered with buildings, while R1B allows 50%.
There is an additional wrinkle in this plan as the property being proposed for development was set aside for park land or green space in the original subdivision plat but was later made available for development as part of the settlement regarding litigation that happened in 2002. Because of that settlement this property remains privately owned and zoned for single-family homes.

Rezoning processes are intentionally slow to give lots of time for neighbor notification and input before a final decision is made. Based on past procedure, I suspect that a final council vote on this rezoning proposal and the related subdivision plat will not occur until sometime in January.

Board of Health, Wednesday, 8 am

For more than a month now the city council and several of its committees have been considering a proposed ordinance titled "Health in All Policies," and the Board of Health will be asked to once again make a recommendation on it at their Wednesday meeting. The Board previously voted to recommend it for approval but it was referred back to multiple committees at our council meeting on November 15.

Madeleine Behr of the Post Crescent covered this item last week and has a nice outline of the goals of the ordinance. The primary purpose of the ordinance is to raise awareness of how our policies and actions as a city impact the health of our community, including socioeconomic factors whose importance we are beginning to better understand.

The proposal has faced some opposition from my colleagues largely due to concerns over the necessity of making an ordinance to address these concerns. The item has already been recommended for denial by the city's Municipal Services and Community and Economic Development Committees.

Personally, I think this proposal gives us a great opportunity to reaffirm our concerns and refocus our efforts on a healthier community. I stand with the East Central Regional Planning Commission, ThedaCare and United Way Fox Cities in support of this item.

Appleton Redevelopment Authority, Wednesday, 10 am

The Appleton Redevelopment Authority is an extension of city government tasked with identifying and rehabilitating properties throughout the city which have some value in development but also some impediment keeping them from reaching that point. One example of such a property is the former Foremost Dairy Site along the Fox River, formerly a vacant industrial property that is now being redeveloped as a senior living facility following a good deal of work from the city to return the property to a buildable state.

On Wednesday the Authority will be asked to consider an offer to purchase the property located at 222 N. Oneida Street, located immediately north of the Transit Center and near the Appleton Public Library. The proposed offer to purchase would acquire the building for $250,000 with $75,000 in escrow being provided by the seller to help alleviate potential environmental concerns on the property.

The office building on this site is currently vacant, and city staff's memo on the purchase cites a desire to purchase the property to help prevent slum and blight. As part of the purchase process environmental studies have been conducted on the site and it is anticipated that a buyer (using part or all of the aforementioned escrow dollars in this case) will need to develop a remediation plan and excavate impacted soils up to five feet below the surface to remove environmental conditions.

The likely expense of taking on this remediation would make it very challenging for a developer to purchase and use this property unless some action is taken to get it back to a usable state. This is the kind of project the ARA is intended to handle, taking the necessary steps to get a valuable piece of property back on the tax rolls where it otherwise would not occur.

Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

On Wednesday the Safety & Licensing Committee will again be asked to consider two items which we have held in the past:
  • A resolution calling for the city to change its current ordinances related to the consumption of alcohol on quadricycles, also known as "pedal pubs." Council voted to ban alcohol consumption on quadricycles in 2014 but the recent success of The Social Station downtown has caused us to call for a reevaluation of our position.
  • A resolution I originally introduced in October calling for a reevaluation of the city's trick or treating hours. Appleton allows for trick or treating from 4-8 pm on Halloween night, which is a longer window than most neighboring communities and generates a few complaints annually. The present policy has been in place for several years now, so I'm hoping we'll be able to use our experiences and concerns we have heard to have an interesting conversation on whether a change is warranted.
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.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 13

With the city budget passed and the holidays upcoming, we're likely looking at a quiet final six weeks or so for the Appleton Common Council in 2017. I likely will not have updates for you next week, when most of our committee meetings are off for the Thanksgiving holiday or the week after, as the council does not meet on weeks of the fifth Wednesday of the month.

Before we get to that break, however, we do have some business to tend to this week:

Safety & Licensing Committee, Wednesday, 6:30 pm

Several years ago the council voted to ban alcohol on quadricycles or "pedal pubs" in the city. Earlier this year The Social Station started operating an alcohol-free quadricycle in the city and their first season has largely gone by without any concerns. After extended discussion with the Police Department and the proprietor of The Social Station, Alderman Joe Martin introduced a resolution that will likely lead to us revisiting our previous decisions on this topic.

Alderman Martin's resolution is very specific, calling for The Social Station patrons to be allowed to carry alcohol on board (no alcohol will be sold on the quadricycle) on a designated route. While I recognize and support what Alderman Martin is trying to do, I'm hoping to expand the scope of the resolution to create an end result that doesn't just apply to one business and one route.

I anticipate a lively discussion on this topic on Wednesday night but a likely end result is this resolution being referred to staff to discuss potential broader ordinance changes.

Parks and Recreation, Wednesday, approximately 6:45 pm

Once the Safety & Licensing Committee wraps up its meeting the Parks and Recreation Committee will take their place to discuss an item that could impact the future of Memorial Park.

It has recently come to our attention that two properties along Northland Avenue near the park are available for sale. Memorial Park's recently updated long-term plans noted that these parcels of land would be worthwhile additions to the park if possible, and recent developments have put us in a position to consider it. The asking price for the two properties is a combined $240,000, and the purchase would be made out of an existing park land fund.

Both of the meetings listed above are special meetings before our scheduled full council meeting on Wednesday night. If the committees elect to take action on either of these items at their meetings, their action will be taken up by the full council later in the night. 

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, November 6, 2017

What you may not know: Week of November 6

It's the busiest week of the year for the Appleton Common Council, as this is the week we're expected to adopt a 2018 city budget. Before we get to that, however, we also have committee business to tend to tonight:

Finance Committee, Monday, 5:30 pm

Monday evening's Finance Committee agenda includes a few items of significant interest:

  • Staff has again asked the committee to approve an intergovernmental agreement with the Appleton Area School District to lend the district short-term cash to help ease challenges created by the differences between when the school district receives revenue and when it has to make expenditures. The maximum AASD can borrow as part of this agreement is $17.5 million and any borrowed funds are required to be repaid to the city with interest by June 30.
  • The next step in the process to determine the future of the Appleton Public Library is a Request For Proposals (RFP) for mixed-use developments including a library within the city's downtown area. The RFP will come before the committee this week with one notable change from the last discussion: The RFP deadline has been extended to January 12 and no council or library board action on the final result is expected until February at the earliest.
  • The process of renovating Jones Park was expected to begin yet this fall but staff has asked the committee to recommend rejecting all bids for proposed 2017 work to allow the project to move to 2018 following the completion of the Fox Cities Exhibition Center. There is hope that combining all of the work in the park into one project will create efficiencies that could lower the total cost.
Budget Adoption, Wednesday, 6 pm

Finally, on Wednesday night the Common Council is expected to conclude our month-long budget review process by adopting the City of Appleton's proposed 2018 budget. This year at our annual Budget Saturday review session the following amendments were approved:

  • The city's contribution to the Fox Cities Regional Partnership was decreased from $36,000 to $25,000 and the remaining revenue was earmarked specifically to support FCRP's "Talent Upload" program.
  • A capital project for $62,765 was added to the Public Safety Capital Projects Fund to allow for the replacement of a Police Tactical Robot. 
  • $102,909 was added to the Police budget to allow for salary and equipment for a new Behavioral Health Officer.
  • $100,000 budgeted for design and preliminary work at Ellen Kort Peace Park was removed from the Facilities Capital Projects Fund.
The following proposed amendments were not approved:
  • Reducing the budget for Common Council training and conferences by $2000.
  • Expanding the Department of Public Works' crosswalk enhancement plan by $40,000 to include the intersection of College Avenue and Shaefer Street.
There are six more proposed amendments on the agenda for Wednesday night, including three of mine:
  • A change to Reid Golf Course's repayment schedule on a 2002 cash advance from the general fund, calling for the city to eliminate $11,500 in rent payments to the golf course and instead apply that amount to the course's outstanding debt.
  • An addition of $6600 to the City Clerk's budget to allow for a tuition reimbursement.
  • Moving three capital projects totaling $104,632 from debt-funded to general fund status using surplus revenue available from unexpected state aid, and as such lowering the city's 2018 borrowing package and future debt service expenses.

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, October 23, 2017

What you may not know: Week of October 23

It's easily the busiest time of the year for the Appleton Common Council as our annual budget review is underway. Our regularly scheduled committee meetings are also taking place this week, including one meeting that will likely draw a fair amount of attention:

Safety & Licensing, Wednesday, 5:30 pm

A month ago this committee was asked to consider a resolution submitted by Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Bob Baker and Patti Coenen discussing the role of the Appleton Police Department as it relates to the enforcement of federal immigration laws. At that time the item was referred to the City Attorney's office for further review of the legal ramifications of passing this resolution, which calls for the city to continue to not use local, discretionary resources to pursue undocumented immigrants except as necessary for public safety.

I've received a fair amount of feedback and questions on this resolution over the last six weeks or so. One of the pieces of information that I think is most important to know here, and which I've now discussed with a fair number of contacts, is that the actions called for in this resolution are no different from what the APD is already doing.

The APD's primary function is to promote and provide public safety. As such, any action they may take that causes potential witnesses or victims of a crime to be fearful of coming forward is detrimental to their ability to prevent and/or solve said crimes. The resolution before us was titled "Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Local Law Enforcement," and that's effectively what we're being asked to do here: To ensure that discretionary actions we could take as related to immigration law don't impinge upon our ability to protect public safety.

Finance Committee, Saturday, 8 am

As I mentioned above, the process of setting the city's 2018 annual budget has moved on to the Common Council. One of our biggest annual meetings is this Saturday as the Finance Committee will come together to spend the full day reviewing the 660-page document and the $170 million in spending outlined therein.

This year it took me 15 days to read through the budget in its entirety and on Friday afternoon I pre-submitted 53 questions to the mayor and department heads. This weekend's session is our first opportunity to discuss the budget in its entirety (although many committees have already discussed their portions of it) and for the Finance Committee to propose amendments.

From here the budget moves on to a public hearing in front of the full council on November 1 and any final amendments and the final budget adoption are scheduled for November 8.

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.