Monday, April 27, 2015

What you may not know: Week of April 27

This is the first committee week of the new council year, and with a new year comes a new set of appointments and schedule. You may already have seen this on my Twitter or Facebook pages, but here are my assignments for the year ahead:

  • I'm honored to have been selected by my colleagues to serve for the first time as Council Vice President. The position is a little light on official responsibilities but I'm looking forward to working with new president Jeff Jirschele to help improve our council processes and the way we share information with each other and our constituents.
  • I'm also honored to be a committee chair for the first time, having been selected by the Mayor to head the Safety & Licensing Committee. My first meeting as chair will be on Thursday.
  • Mayor Hanna also reappointed me to the Finance Committee for a second year, and to the Transit Commission for a third year.
And now, on to business. Here are some of the items I'll be watching this week:

City Plan Commission, Monday, 4 pm

Efforts to add on to the Emerald Valley subdivision will likely take another step forward on Monday evening when the City Plan Commission will be asked to recommend approval of a Final Plat calling for 27 lots to be subdivided between E Rubyred Dr and Providence Avenue, north and west of the intersection of County Highway JJ and French Road.

This is the third step in an extended process, as council approved a rezoning to move this property from agricultural to R-1B single family on February 4 and a preliminary plat for the subdivision was approved on March 4. The subject property was annexed into the city in 2004.

On top of adding to the city tax base, this subdivision addition also resolves a known safety issue in the already-developed area nearby. The current subdivision connects to French Road in two relatively nearby locations, but the fact that those exits are close together and power lines run overhead creates the risk that the subdivision could be completely closed off to the outside in the event of a major windstorm, which has already happened once. This plat calls for the subdivision to be connected to Providence Avenue on the south and should eliminate that concern. 

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

The Municipal Services Committee will be busy on Tuesday with no less than eleven action items on their agenda, including a revision to one we've discussed previously.

Back in early March I mentioned a request to install a new sign outside Bazil's on College Avenue, a large beer bottle that extended out into the street right of way and made some of my colleagues uneasy. That request narrowly passed at the committee level, was referred back by council and was eventually held so a new proposal could be developed. The new proposal will come before the committee this week.

The new sign doesn't extend quite as far into the right of way as the previous proposal (five feet instead of 8.5), but little else appears to have changed. At this point I don't know if that adjustment will be enough to alleviate the concerns of some of my colleagues.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

Tax Increment Financing (or TIF) is one of the powerful tools local governments have in their arsenals to help spur development in certain areas, improving the vibrancy of areas that may otherwise stagnate and helping increase the tax base over the long term. On Wednesday we'll celebrate the success of one such district as the Finance Committee is expected to recommend approval of a resolution closing TIF district #5, an area north of College Avenue between Gillett and Bennett streets.

For those interested, here's a very simplified crash course on how TIF districts work:

  • Areas that may otherwise become blighted or be left underdeveloped can be designated as a TIF district and targeted for improvements that will make them more likely to be improved going forward. To date the city has designated ten areas this way, and this district will be the fourth to successfully close.
  • Payments made to the four taxing entities (the city, county, school district and Fox Valley Technical College) by properties within a TIF district are held flat for a period of time. At the same time, money is borrowed to help finance the needed improvements that have been identified.
  • That debt is paid off using the "increment," which is the increase in tax revenue received as property values in the area improve. The hope is that new development in the area or a revitalization of existing development will create a relatively rapid improvement in assessed values.
  • A TIF district remains "open" as long as outstanding debt from the improvements is still being paid by the increment. Once the debt has been repaid the district is closed and the full value of the property returns to the tax rolls.
The final debt service payments on TIF district #5 were projected for April, so we're ready to close the books on this one. 

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.

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.

Monday, April 6, 2015

What you may not know: Week of April 6 - Get out and vote!

It's a committee week for the Appleton Common Council, but the week's most important event happens on Tuesday as the city holds its spring elections. On top of the race for State Supreme Court and a referendum seeking to change the way that court's chief justice is selected, there are also contested races for aldermanic seats in the city's 1st, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 11th and 15th districts. Here in the 13th district, I am also up for reelection but running unopposed. Nonetheless, I would still encourage you to get out to the polls on Tuesday and would appreciate your support.

If you aren't sure which district you live in or where to vote, you can find that information by typing in your address on this page and going to the "voting" tab. If you live here in the 13th district you can vote at Faith Lutheran Church, located at 3100 E Evergreen Drive. Polls are open from 7 am until 8 pm on Tuesday.

Beyond that, this week's agendas are largely quiet. One item up for discussion today, however, may draw some interest on the city's north side:

Community and Economic Development Committee, Monday, 5 pm

One of a handful of items on this committee's agenda includes a request to waive the city's repurchase rights for a lot in the Northeast Business Park adjacent to the former Happy Joe's on Evergreen Drive. Here's a quick primer on what's happening here:

  • When the city sells lots in the industrial park, we retain the right to repurchase those lots from their buyer if they wait too long to develop them. We also hold the right of first refusal to repurchase the property if a developer tries to resell them.
  • The lot in question here and the adjacent Happy Joe's property were purchased from the city in 2006 and Happy Joe's was built in 2009, but the other lot has remained vacant all this time and was re-sold in late 2014 for roughly $66,500 per acre, over $30,000 below the assessed value. The city was not offered the opportunity to repurchase despite the requirement that it happen.
  • As such, tonight the committee is being asked to retroactively waive our repurchase rights to allow that sale to remain.
Procedure aside, the note that many people may find interesting is in the third paragraph of the memo attached to this page: The purchasing company, S & J Enterprises Fox Cities, LLC, has told staff they're interested in building an aquatics center on this site. There are no details or renderings to share at this time, but I suspected the possibility of a new aquatic facility near the sports park might be something many of you would be interested in hearing about.

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.