trash enclosure requirements, too much for our businesses?

At our city council meeting on May 5, we voted on a measure that regulates enclosures for trash containers at business locations in the city. We have a need to clean up some areas where trash is not well controlled and looks unsightly. We also have a need to nail down some rules for the looks and material used to construct trash enclosures in our business/industrical parks. It seems that all of us on the council agree on the need to control this and make things look good. But we disagree on the material that must be used to build the trash enclosures.

This is the passage from the ordinance that we disagree on:

“The enclosure and gate shall be a matching metal building material, vinyl, brick, masonry, or composite wood. Chain link fence with slats is not permitted.”

I made a motion to also allow the enclosures to be made of wood or chain link with slats. My ammendment was voted down, with Boyd, Donovan, Kneiszel, Lueck, Raasch, and Rafferty voting naye, and Bauer and me voting aye. So the above language stands as the requirement for the materials used to build a trash enclosure.

I want to use this opportunity to explain why I wanted it changed. While I strongly agree with the need to keep things looking nice, I also feel that we need to seriously consider what these enclosures will cost our business owners. The materials I want to allow are the least expensive of the options. And I think we should let the business owner decide what they can afford.

There were basically two arguments against my thoughts, so I’ll explain both along with my response.

First, the more expensive materials last longer. For example, a block enclosure will certainly last longer than a wood enclosure. I don’t dispute that. But I still feel the business owner should be able to decide what they can afford. If they build the less expensive enclosure now, and then have to replace it in 10 years, then so be it. That’s their decision. And if they can afford the better, more expensive materials now (like Unison Credit Union on Main at 9th), that’s fine too.

Second, the more expensive materials look nicer. Since they last longer, they are less likely to fall into disrepair, and they look better. I don’t completely disagree with that, but I would also argue that good looks are always determined in the eye of the beholder. I just don’t think a wood enclosure looks bad, nor do I think a chain link enclosure looks bad. We can control the appearance by requiring that no matter what material is used, the business owner must keep the enclosure in good repair. So if it’s wood and requires some attention every few years to keep it up, then fine. If it’s brick and doesn’t require as much attention, that’s fine too. Again, we should leave the decision to the business owner based on what they can afford.

I understand that we want to have an overall good look in our city. I also understand that many businesses, especially those in our business parks, are fine with the more expensive concrete enclosures. But this measure seems to go a bit too far. During our discussion at the April 8 meeting, it was said that, “If you’re putting up a $20 million building, what’s a $5,000 enclosure? It’s nothing.” I just disagree. A $5,000 enclosure is expensive, especially for small businesses.

To see what we are talking about, I went out in my district and took some pictures of wood and chain link enclosures. I just wanted to see what actually exists in our city with respect to these lower cost enclosures. These are the photos I took. Some are newer enclosures, some are older. I think they all look fine.

Unfortunately, our ordinance will not allow for these enclosures. Listen, I like the fact that many of us want our city to look good. But it seems that we’re trying to create some kind of elite look and feel, and that comes with a cost that can be hard for a new business to absorb. And I don’t like the message it sends to businesses considering a location here in De Pere.

These are the meetings where the issue was discussed (video is available for each):