7/11/2019 7:30:00 AM City to move ahead with parking lot 10 percent of PRAT revenues to be set aside for non-motorized transportation projects
Heather Schaefer and Jamie Taylor of the River News
The vacant Lindey/Kabel property at 34 S. Stevens Street in Rhinelander is set to be converted to a parking lot, following action Monday evening by the city's common council.
The topic of the future of the vacant lot was back before the council as the result of mayor Chris Frederickson's veto of the council's June 24 vote on a resolution which referenced a request from local attorney Richard Voss, who owns the Grey Wolf nature store adjacent to the Lindey/Kabel lot, for parking space as well as direction from the council as to whether remediation should be discontinued and a parking lot constructed.
The veto, described as a "new milestone" for Frederickson's administration, was announced on the Rhinelander City Hall Facebook page July 1.
In the Facebook post, the mayor listed the following objections to the council's June 24 action:
Members of the Common Council's consideration of whether Mr. Voss should be paying for a parking space was not a subject matter of the proposed resolution, which contemplated how to provide Mr. Voss with a parking space for his building, since the City, by its public action and prior approval removed his building's previous access to adjacent on-street parking on South Stevens Street thus creating an unnecessary hardship for a City property owner. These conversations were not germaine (sic) to the primary question of how to address Mr. Voss' concern for not having parking at his business.
Members of the Common Council were unnecessarily stressed over the recommendation to turn an empty lot into a public parking space. This space could have been converted with minimal effort and expense to the City for a short-term solution which would address Mr. Voss' concern.
City records and past meeting minutes suggest that the Kabel/Lindey property was planned to be converted into a future space for public parking. City records and past meeting minutes suggest that the recommendation to deal with the site's environmental contamination is to "cap" the site, which could be accomplished in the near future by the creation of a parking lot. Again, the question of whether these parking spaces are leased or not is not of immediate concern to the public interest. The Common Council needs to provide direction to city staff regarding its expectations for what is to become of the property and how the city will deal with the continued environmental contamination of the site.
Despite suggestions to the contrary, no City official has presented either the City Administration or me with the name of anyone interested in purchasing the vacant lot. In the absence of identifying an interested buyer who is interested in enjoining themselves to the environmental liability of the contaminated site in perpetuity, the Common Council should proceed with its original plans or develop new policy and communicate their preference to city staff.
Shortly after the veto was announced, questions were raised as to whether the mayor might have a conflict of interest related to the property in question. At the heart of the concern is the close proximity of a new wine bar owned by the Frederickson family at 51 S. Brown Street and the Lindey/Kabel property. The Lindey/Kabel property is located behind the wine bar.
(In a July 3 interview with the River News, Frederickson declined to answer a number of questions related to the wine bar, including the specifics of the ownership structure, however the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions lists his spouse, Kim Frederickson, as the registered agent of the limited liability company that operates the business).
In the interview, Frederickson stressed that any potential benefit to the wine bar was not a consideration in his decision to issue the veto.
"The issue is whether or not Richard Voss gets parking space for his business," he said. "So, does that (a parking lot) solve that? Yes, it does."
When asked if he would recuse himself from any future vote on the Lindey/Kabel property, given its proximity to the wine bar, Frederickson did not commit himself to a course of action.
As it turned out, there was no need for Frederickson to vote on the matter.
Monday's discussion began with alderman Steve Sauer offering the argument that the question of whether the property should be converted to a parking lot had already been answered.
To make his case, Sauer cited the minutes of a May 2014 council meeting which summarize the history of the transfer of the property from Oneida County to the city. According to Sauer, the minutes indicate it was the intention of the council to convert the land to a parking lot.
"My opinion, open the whole thing up and let people park there... just like any other city lot," he continued. "That was the intention in 2014 when this council accepted that piece of property. It just got stalled. There's no reason not to follow through with the wishes of the previous council."
Alderman Lee Emmer, who noted he has experience in designing parking lots, was the first to respond.
Emmer stressed that he has no issue with the idea of creating a parking lot at the Lindey-Kabel location, however he warned the council members there are a lot of details involved in such a process and noted the resolution lacked specifics as to cost and design.
"One doesn't just convert a property into a public parking lot," he said, before listing a number of "concerns" that must be addressed in this process, including handicapped accessibility, drainage, traffic patterns, signage, turning radiuses, the length and depth of the spaces, angles of parking and surface treatment.
"Keep in mind this is not a maintenance project, this is a capital improvement project. It has different rules than a maintenance project," he said. "Those are just some of the issues with converting that. But you have no cost estimate. What you're approving here is making a parking lot of unknown design for an amount of money that's unknown. I can't support that."
Sauer replied that five different parking lot designs were brought forward back in 2014 and returned to the argument that the 2014 council had already made the necessary decisions.
"All of the studies have been done. All of the planning has been done. It's all there," he said. "This council approved it 5 years ago."
Alderman Ryan Rossing shared some of Emmer's concerns.
"I don't want to just slap down some blacktop without any forethought," he said, adding that it would be nice if the lot looks similar to the parking area adjacent to the Diel Insurance building in downtown Rhinelander. "I would like to see something similar to that. I don't want to see straight-up blacktop.... I think we need to take a look at how we want to do this parking lot and make sure it looks good for the city."
The council eventually voted 4-2 to proceed with the parking lot. Emmer and alderman Tom Kelly cast the "nay" votes. Alderpersons George Kirby and Dawn Rog were absent.
From the discussion, it appears the intent of the council is for Voss to be given space in the lot, however the specifics have not been determined.
"The resolution as proposed suggested providing the Grey Wolf with a parking space on the lot due to the fact that there was the denial of the request for a space on Stevens Street," city administrator Daniel Guild explained. "The resolution does not contemplate whether that designated parking space comes at a cost, whether it's given gratis. The financial implications of that designation were not delved into by this ordinance because I wasn't sure what the council's thought process was on that."
It's unclear when work on the parking lot will begin as Rhinelander police chief Lloyd Gauthier noted he has received a request from Big Daddy's to use the space for an early August class reunion. The organizers of the upcoming Project North Festival, to be held September, have also expressed interest in using the property, he added.
Also Monday, the council voted unanimously to establish a financial policy assigning 10 percent of PRAT (premier resort area tax) revenues for the implementation of non-motorized transportation infrastructure projects.
According to the resolution establishing the policy, state statute provides cities with the authority to spend PRAT revenues on transportation projects, including non-motorized transportation projects.
The PRAT, a half-cent sales tax on tourism-related items, was approved by city voters in 2016 and went into effect Jan. 1, 2017. It was billed as a way to provide the city with an additional source of revenue for infrastructure repairs and improvement without increasing property taxes.
During public comment, several speakers addressed the potential positive economic impact of the resolution.
Tom Jerow noted he saw "just as many bike racks as ATV trailers" over the Fourth of July holiday.
"Tourism is a big factor," he said.
In other business, the council:
Heard from Rhinelander Chamber of Commerce executive director Lauren Sackett on the chamber's new strategic and operational plan.
Heard a presentation from Mark Barden of Town and County Engineering on the company's history with the city.
Discussed the possibility of enacting a policy banning the practice of alderpersons appearing at meetings via telephone. The council voted to move forward with such a policy, but several members stressed that they want to be able to suspend the policy when necessary.
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