old Claude Allouez Bridge approach land

This is somewhat late notice, but I want to fill you in on an important issue that we’ll be considering at tomorrow night’s city council meeting. First, a brief background.

When we built the new Claude Allouez Bridge a few years ago, we left a small plot of land vacant which was the approach to the old bridge. This land starts at the corner of S Broadway and George St, and goes west to N Front St. It’s currently a small patch of grass and a parking lot. We’ve had a number of ideas come forward as to the possible use of that land, though nothing concrete has been determined.

The land is still owned by the State of Wisconsin, and they recently told us of our options as a city for acquiring the land. The issue was discussed by our Redevelopment Authority and our Plan Commission. A recommendation was then sent to the City Council which we voted on at our last meeting on November 7. We were given three options:

  1. Maintain the site for transportation related use.
  2. City to purchase at appraised price (about $79,000), with the caveat that the entire site be used for public use only.
  3. Allow the site to be sold at bid, with the buyer having no usage restrictions.

Both the Plan Commission and RDA recommended option #3. This is the option that I voted for.

The issue here is that if we go with option 2, we are guaranteed to own the land, but then we’d have usage restrictions. But if we go with option 3, it’s possible that someone else could outbid us, but if we are not outbid and we do buy the land, we’d have no usage restrictions.

In voting for option 3, I thought two things:

First, I leaned heavily on the Plan Commission, the RDA and city staff, in saying that the appraised value is much too high, and that there’s a good chance that we’d get the land anyway (even if we let it go to bid). The reason for this is that even if someone buys the land, there are easements on it, along with an alley, and the owner would still have to work with the city on its use. Such issues may make the land less attractive, and even if someone buys it, we can still control its use via zoning. This is still a risk for the city, but I agreed with the recommendation that it would be a risk worth taking.

Second, and most importantly, I don’t like option 2 because of the usage restriction. We have heard many ideas from folks in the community for possible uses of the land. At this point in time, we simply are not ready to decide how to use the land, nor are we ready to eliminate any possible uses. By selecting option 2, we eliminate any possibility of private use.

To be clear, I want to see the land slated for public use, with the possibility of maybe having a few small shops that would enhance that public use. Sure, option 2 would set this in stone and get me what I want. But I just don’t think that as a city, we’re ready for that commitment.

Now, to make this even more interesting, the state has given us a deadline of November 30 to make a decision. So, at our November 7 City Council meeting, several alderpersons preferred to wait until tomorrow’s meeting on November 20 to vote. The thought was that since we have until the end of the month, we could wait 2 weeks, and it would give us more time to get input from the public. Again, let me be clear, I’m all in favor of hearing from the public. After all, if we don’t have to decide yet, then why not wait 2 more weeks? Well, the reason I preferred to not wait is that no matter what input we receive, I still don’t think we’re ready as a city to decide on the use of the land. If we had a few months, then maybe, but there’s just no way we can decide on a use in 2 weeks. So I didn’t see any reason to wait to vote.

As it turns out, 4 of us voted in favor of option 3 (Bauer, Crevier, Donovan, Lueck), the other 4 voted against (Boyd, Kneiszel, Robinson, Van Vonderen). In this case, the Mayor breaks the tie, and he also voted in favor of option 3.

So, now, in the weeks since that vote, I’ve heard from 2 residents who would like to speak on the issue. Also, Ald Kneiszel has shared some information with the council about the way the state is handling this sale. He raised several good questions. I won’t go into much detail, except to mention one such issue. There is some confusion as to what our deadline is for this decision, and it’s possible that we can get more time. If that’s true, then I’m very much in favor of that. Now, as a council, we can’t discuss this issue outside of an open meeting. So, since I want some of these questions answered, and since I heard from 2 constituents who want to speak on the issue, I asked that our agenda for tomorrow night’s meeting be amended so that we can reconsider our vote.

By doing this, I’m not committing to how I will vote tomorrow night. I only want the chance to discuss it again, get some questions answered, and offer a chance to hear from folks in our community. If you have an opinion on the matter, I hope you will attend our meeting at 7:30pm tomorrow at City Hall. If you have an opinion but can’t make it to the meeting, please e-mail me and I’ll read your opinion at the meeting so that the entire council will hear your words. If you do e-mail me, please make it clear if you want me to share it with the council or not.

I hope to see you tomorrow night.

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