Housing can be the key

Housing is often a key to a successful community. If you ask someone what their ideal home is, you’ll get a wide variety of answers. Some people like a big house and a big yard, some want an efficiency apartment so they don’t have to shovel, cut grass, or fix things. Some will say a small house in a nice neighborhood where I can walk to the store and still others just want a decent home they can afford.

People have different housing needs and we’ve been trying to address those needs. The Berkshire provides senior housing near downtown and the Lincoln Center. The Reserve provides student housing that offers an alternative to dormitory or group house living, also close to shopping and food. The Fourth Avenue project, on the former Grant School site, provides single family homes in a great neighborhood near parks. The market rate project on the former Point Motel site will provide quality apartments for young professionals near shopping and our larger employers. We also have the convent project to offer a quite property, near shopping, for seniors who want to live with peers and have common space for activities. All of these are on public transportation routes, too.

We’re working on other projects that will help fill some gaps, like affordable and lower income units, so stay tuned.

Having people living in certain areas provides opportunities to the residents and other developers. An example I often use is this:

People have been asking for a different type of grocery store downtown. We already have the Market on Strongs and the CO-OP is only a few blocks away, but some prefer a different option. I think they mean cheaper, but to have lower prices the grocer needs to buy larger quantities of product. If they buy larger quantities, they need to sell more product. They can’t have milk or breads expire on the shelf.

Now, the city doesn’t build grocery stores but what we CAN do is create an environment that is attractive to those who do. By having more people living in the downtown area, you have more customers to buy product. Seeing another 600 people in the neighborhood should get the attention of people who want to build a grocery or convenience store to serve those residents.

Our quality of life here is second to none. Over the past few years we have expanded our recreational choices. We now have over 30 parks, a beautiful river and more hiking, peddle and paddle opportunities than ever before. We have live music with Levitt, Notes at Night and many other local venues. We have four theater groups, sporting events, car shows, murals and some of the most unique and creative things you’ll find anywhere, including the Umbrella man light, Creative Crosswalk, Trash Canvas, and Polkas on Ice. The more diverse we can be with recreation, the more people will choose to live here.

More diverse housing also attracts people here. If we can provide the type of housing someone wants, they’ll choose Stevens Point. More people mean a larger employee base. That will attract employers. We’ve already lost some great projects because we couldn’t meet the employee needs. I don’t want that to happen ever again.

As I said at the beginning, housing is key to a successful community. Stevens Point is working hard to meet the wide spectrum of housing needs. I know that each project isn’t for everyone, but understand that is it exactly what someone else does want.

Together we make our community great. Together, we move Stevens Point forward.

Comments on Proposed Referendum Petition and How We Got Here

An opinion

Why are we so angry, so mean to each other, so quick to take Facebook information as fact? Our community is facing a referendum petition that could have pretty harsh effects on our ability to move forward over the next few years. How did it come to this?

Well, here is one person’s perspective – we stopped listening to each other. We’ve thrown civil discussion out the window and dug our heels in to whatever our position is, and it didn’t start with vaccines.

I’ll go back to the Stanley street discussion, which was over two years’ worth of meetings. It started off on the wrong foot when there were “informational meetings” held without consent or knowledge of the City. Incorrect information was disseminated and things began to spiral. At the public meetings, people who lived there, people who lived nearby, and people who used the road spoke. At each of those meetings, a majority spoke in opposition (we kept count). Did the Council take notice? Not really. One even told a resident that she had a PhD and knew more than they did. That refusal to understand the perspective of those residents left a bad taste in the mouth for everyone who voiced their concerns. 

Initially, no one bid on the project. We sent it out again and the road restriping came in way over the estimated budget at $96,900.25. Being so far over budget, I thought Council would turn it down, but they didn’t. Staff immediately began to look at alternatives and fortunately, they found that we could buy our own equipment and restripe it ourselves for less that the bid that Council approved.  It seemed some on Council were so focused on getting it done that cost saving alternatives weren’t even entering their minds. Stanley St. was restriped and now we own the equipment which is ultimately saving us money on our other striping projects. I’m very grateful to the staff for finding a less expensive alternative.

I only mention Stanley St. because that is where I began to notice the stand-offishness of everyone. The heels were dug in, lines were drawn, and a battle ensued. It should have never gotten to that point. Stanley St. is functional, but things that were predicted didn’t happen – at least not yet. There were no “blood soaked streets” as one man foresaw. Garbage is still getting picked up, accidents have decreased, but speeds have not. No one has hit a bike backing out of their driveway and no huge economic boom has happened, either. What did we learn?

Fast forward to Business 51. We began public meetings, this time around, in late 2019. It made the news. We hired AECOM to design the project and handle public informational meetings in early 2020. AECOM did just that and got to work. A few Alderpersons participated and helped guide the discussion. All of this information is available at StevensPoint.com/Business51.

For whatever reason, when people saw the Council item to approve the design to move to the 30% design phase in September 2021, it caught a few more eyes. Business owners and citizens showed up to voice concerns. They seemed to be unaware of the previous meetings, door hangers, and news articles about the project. I can understand that. We often don’t have time to pay close attention to what is going on outside our immediate field of influence. We listened, but Council voted to move to 30% design nonetheless. After seeing the large number of citizens with concerns, I asked Director Beduhn to make direct contact with every single property and business owner on the south section of the project. We offered each an individual meeting with us and AECOM to listen to their concerns. Many took us up on that offer. Over the course of a few days, we met and listened. We made progress. Most concerns were about access and driveways. Some modifications were made to the plan to help address those concerns. We couldn’t find a solution to everyone’s issues but it seemed that many left content.

We had another regular Council meeting and even though it wasn’t an agenda item, about 40 people took time at the beginning of the meeting to restate concerns that remained. I knew there is room for compromise on this project, we just witnessed it in those one-on-one meetings. It isn’t, “this way or no way.” The citizens felt they weren’t given the courtesy of participation. To top it off, President Meleesa Johnson and Alderman David Shorr introduced “Rules of Decorum” for attendees. That prohibited several things that attendees had done during the public comments period of the previous meeting. When a Code of Conduct for Council members was introduced at the same meeting it was quickly shot down. The perception was that Council wanted rules for the public, but not for themselves. 

Because of that perceived lack of concern, at the December 20, 2021 meeting, Alderman Slowinski proposed that the Council choose to go to referendum and let everyone have a vote on this project. This also gave the opportunity to discuss the project, since it was on the agenda. Again, many people spoke and voiced concerns. They claimed majority. The Council again shot it down. Some even read from prepared statements. How does that look? We had dozens of people who came to plead with the Council and to show they listened, Council members responded by reading something that was written before anyone even got to the microphone? It got worse. Three or four Alderpersons voted not to go to referendum and then basically said. “you can collect enough signatures yourself to do it.” The video is out there, watch it yourself starting about 2 hours and 14 minutes into the meeting. This, to me, was almost like a dare. That is not the way our Government should operate, but the vote was taken and the Council would not willingly go to referendum.

How do you think those people felt – the people who own property or businesses and had to take time to come and share their concerns about issues that are important to them? There didn’t even seem to be willingness to try to find another solution.

We have usually tried hard to show that we are accepting of everyone. We say we are inclusive and we want people to participate. As a community, we welcome everyone, don’t we? We have taken strong stances against hate, bigotry, and bias. We’ve condemned bullying in any form. Did we forget what those words mean, or is it just wrong for some people?

What else was left for these folks to do? What do you do when you tried to talk, to reason, to plead, and even tried name-calling and insults? Well, they were told, “Go get your signatures,” so they got together, hired a lawyer, got some words on paper, and did just that. What would you do?

There is some weird stuff floating around out there. I can’t even tell you where some of it started, but here’s what I can tell you:

1. Funding is a big deal. We can’t afford to do any design on our own. Four lane, three lane, bike lanes, or roundabouts. Plain and simple. The north section is in a TIF, so that helps. We need grants if we’re going to make it all happen. If we don’t get grants, even the three lane design is going to raise taxes so high that even I would grab a torch and pitchfork! It just won’t happen without funding. While no design prevents us from applying for grants, doing certain things to improve the road will get you a better chance of getting awarded a grant. Does that mean we have to do everything? No, so there is room for compromise in that regard, but the chances of getting the grants may decline, too. We need to find a balance point and make a strong case. It can be done.

2. Trust the engineers? Well, that’s horse hockey (to quote Colonel Potter). When some didn’t like what our engineers said on Stanley Street, they found another engineer who agreed with them. Engineers are trained professions but just like lawyers, they can differ in opinions. Remember Post Road was designed and built by engineers. The whole Department of Transportation thinks that build is A-Ok! Engineers can design what they are asked to design.

3.  Its too dangerous the way it is? It is more dangerous than it needs to be, but not really any higher, on average, than national stats. But, we would be doing everyone a disservice if we didn’t try to make it safer.

4.  This is led by the “far-right?” Why would anyone say that? Is that just an attempt to be more divisive? These are citizens, business owners, property owners. This isn’t political. This is their livelihood. Does that mean the road diet is a “far-left” proposal? Of course not, it is supposed to be about safety, isn’t it?

Now let’s get to this referendum petition. I can’t speak to how or why this group chose the words they did, or the amount they did. As a Mayor, I don’t like it. Just about every road project we do is over $1,000,000. If passed, this would mean that basically, every year, our road budget would have to go to public referendum. That’s not the end of the world. We typically approve that budget in October. Now we would have to wait until November. I also think people understand the conditions of our roads enough to realize we can’t just stop fixing and rebuilding them. I also understand that it makes it much harder for us to make decisions on those roads, because now each will become a political battle. Who can rally enough voters to squash the road plan unless we fix “Road X” first? Leek put it best, that’s engineering by referendum and it is wrong.

We also have projects that come up, and they may need a new stretch of road to their new development. Well, if it’s over $1 million, that now would have to go to referendum. If you were a developer, would you think that is going to be a smooth process? We only have elections a few times each year. Do I tell a developer, “We’d love to have you build your new facility here. Stick some money into designing, and if you need a new road, I can let you know if that’s ok in November. Please just hold tight and don’t go looking anywhere else for now.”

There really isn’t an upside to it. I’m advised that the Council could legally overturn the referendum after 2 years, so I guess that could be a bright side. 

I understand how the people behind this petition feel and how they got to this point, but it could have been avoided. I know there is room to compromise and get many of the concerns addressed. It’s about those driveways, but its about much more than that, too. 

Should enough valid signatures be collected and certified, I will ask for a halt on any further design work until the referendum vote in April. It would be foolish to spend any more money on designing if there is a public vote in a few months that could nix the project. This will delay the project if the referendum fails, but a few months is not critical.

The bottom line is this could have been avoided if we all just showed more respect, understanding, and a willingness to try to address concerns. 

For these reasons and more, I’m proposing that we re-evaluate the design, including the proposed roundabout, and break it further into sections. The north third is likely being funded via TIF and time is a concern since the TID will close at a date certain. We’ll focus on that area first and how that stretch will evolve into traffic calming lane reductions in the residential section of Business 51, south through about Patch Street. We need to slow the traffic down in that area and create a safer environment for non-motor vehicle users. We also have a little more time on that area and we’ll need it as we decide whether or not to make Main and Clark two-way streets. Lastly, because in several years we may have some additional funding opportunities, we should look at what we can do to help alleviate some of the concerns regarding the south segment. This seems the primary area of concern and we need to make more of an effort to understand the needs of businesses on that segment. We’ll have more time to look at access points, raised medians, and intersection alignments to be least impactful on the property owners and businesses. 

Let’s end the name calling, politicizing, and divisiveness that is tearing our community apart. Let’s walk the talk about bias, hate, and bullying. Let’s try sitting down, being civil to each other, and coming up with solutions.

Please join me in encouraging your Council to support this proposal. This is a community project – likely the biggest in our lifetime – and we have an obligation to listen, understand, and act to make sure it meets the needs of the whole community for the next 50 years or more.

Mayor Mike WIza

Happy Holidays – Everyone has a perspective

We call this the holiday season. The time between Thanksgiving and the New Year, including such festivals as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. We all try to be a little nicer to each other during this time, at least I hope we do. We reach into our pockets for the red kettles, or toys for tots, or food baskets for people in need. But that begs the question, why can’t we be nice to each other ALL year. The needs don’t go away, that’s for sure.

We’ve become too divided as a society. I was told something a while back and it really stuck in my craw. I was told that I was playing both sides. I occurred to me that THAT is a big part of the problem. Many people see SIDES. We stopped acknowledging opinions, preferences and beliefs. We’ve stopped respecting our neighbors who might have a different perspective on things. When we see SIDES, we lose the ability to understand things from another angle. Each person in this room has a different story. Each of you came to this spot in time though different roads, different experiences and different influences. My father passed away abruptly when he was 36 years old. I was 14 and the oldest. My mother raised 4 kids on her own and we were not model children. I know what it’s like for families with one tiny income and the same bills to pay, the same need for a warm place to sleep and tuna casserole. I understand the If it weren’t for the kindness of family and even strangers I wouldn’t likely be here today. You probably see things a little differently than me and neither of us are wrong. Let’s try to remember that, not just during the holiday season, but every day. I don’t want any of us to have sides.

I also wanted to take some time to address some of the things I’ve seen floating around on a few topics. Specifically, Business 51. I’ve heard people say “if we don’t do the road diet, our taxes go up 20% or more.” I’ve heard “the city won’t get federal money unless we do X”. “We need to keep it four lanes because of traffic flow or emergency vehicles”.

First, there is NO design that would prohibit us from getting grants. None, including leaving it exactly as is. I know there are some improvements we can make, so I do not support rebuilding exactly as-is.

If we don’t receive some form of assistance, any design, including the current preferred lane reduction would cause taxes to go up 20% or more. That is not acceptable for any design and therefore will likely not happen without some form of outside funding.

You may have heard cost estimates. The guesses range from 35 million up to about 60 million, depending on what rumor you’ve heard. The bottom line is they’re just guesses at this point. Ever our Comptroller told us that last week.

I saw a drawing of what it would look like for an emergency vehicle on a four lane and two lanes with a turn land. It showed fewer cars in the three-lane example, so of course it looked less cluttered and depicted every car in that example doing what it is supposed to do. The four-lane drawing had cars scattered everywhere. Of course this is not reality. The bottom line for emergency services is that we have the finest Police, Fire and EMS in the state. If there is an emergency, they will get there. If everyone doesn’t pull right, like they should, they will work around it, as they do today.

I even found an opinion piece where it sounded like it didn’t seem to matter what was best or what worked, but whether or not you “won”. Or “how to win”. This isn’t about winning or losing, this project is about what is in the best interests of the community for the next several generations. There are some things we can do to make the road safer. We also need to remember that there are thousands of users every day and their needs need to be in the equation. It’s not about sides, it’s not about winning and I certainly hope its not about scaring people into thinking the world will end if we do or don’t do something.

I sincerely hope we all take a look at ourselves over the next few weeks and try to remember that everyone has a story you don’t know, everyone has taken a path to be where they are today and if we can have a little more compassion and understanding of our neighbor’s perspective, we’ll all be better people. I hope each of you has a wonderful final few weeks of 2021 and the best 2022 you can have!

FROM THE DESK OF MAYOR MIKE

Welcome to September. Our road construction projects are trying to wrap up and the Fall street projects are moving forward. The days are getting shorter, but the workload isn’t. We are ready to present our capital budget to the Finance Committee on Monday, September 13th. This shows what “big ticket” items are requested for 2022. We here at City Hall have been working together to make sure we prioritize our needs to fit within the budget that Council has determined.

You have probably noticed that the old laundromat on Division St. has been removed. This was acquired by the city so we can move forward on a partnership project with UWSP to re-establish a corridor between Business 51 and the campus on Isadore St. You may also soon see the Point Motel coming down as a developer has bought it and is constructing new apartments on that site. Belke Lumber is also going to be deconstructed soon and we have some exciting prospects for that location.

Going up, is Dunkin’ Doughnuts and Baskin-Robbins. They are slated for an October opening. The Point Brewery’s Beer Garden is scheduled for a ribbon cutting on Friday, Sept. 3 and should be available for bookings after that.

With the Labor Day holiday, our regular Plan Commission meeting has been moved to Tuesday, September 7th. More information is available at stevenspoint.com, but on that agenda we include:

  • A plan review to install a gazebo at Veterans Memorial Park, as an Eagle Scout project.
  • A discussion only agenda item to update everyone on the neighborhood meetings that have taken place this summer on the proposed ADU/ACU ordinance. Staff will be giving a presentation discussing these neighborhood meetings and present an updated ordinance proposal for feedback and discussion. There will be NO formal action required by the Plan Commission at this time.
  • A presentation by City staff on the US Census population data release. Numbers went down but the UWSP enrollment was also down during this period and seemingly attributed to the decline and we have realized a more ethnically diverse population. Redistricting our Aldermanic districts is going on right now to adjust for the population changes.

We still have lots going on including Jazzfest this weekend and a dedication of the Freedom Eagle sculptures at Cultural Commons on September 18th along with Art in the Park the same day.

From the Desk of Mayor Mike

August 23, 2021

As summer draws to a close I’d like to hit on a few of the highlights and provide insight into what the rest of the year might bring.

Development in the city has been focusing on housing in 2021. The Berkshire has been completed and has nearly filled up already. Northside Yard, on the former Lullaby site, is coming along nicely and will likely be completed in first half of 2022. There are a few other housing projects that will take us well into 2022, also. Housing options are critical to a workforce and a workforce is critical to any community’s growth. The spectrum of housing needs is broad and Stevens Point is trying to address all of them. We’ve recently creating another housing task force that is made up of stakeholders including developers, property managers, realtors and contractors to help up achieve our diverse housing needs.

Recreational opportunities are also a key element of a livable community and Stevens Point has been making improvements in that area, too. We are currently looking at a Bukolt Park bath house rehabilitation project and what that might look like. We’re created natural prairies within the city along with pollinator gardens.

We’ve partnered with UWSP to re-establish a corridor between Business 51 and the Campus in what was the former Maytag Laundromat. The building will be razed soon. Also slated for deconstruction is the Belke Lumber facility on 2nd street. We’ve worked with Barry Calnan to help preserve it’s legacy by creating a virtual walk through. That is available online, along with our Historic Firehouse, HERE.

Infrastructure is always a challenge and 2021’s construction season is beginning to wrap up. We’ve replaced water, sewer and storm pipes on the city’s north side. These utilities were some of the oldest in the city and were not built to handle the amount of use they now serve. These upgrades will help with flooding issues along those streets and better serve those neighborhoods. We generally have some funds left unspent on our large projects and that money allows us to address roads and alleys that have a high need, but maybe not as critical as those larger projects. Our fall paving projects will begin soon and this year we’ll be working on Gilkay, Miller Court and several alleys between Clark and Jefferson, east of Michigan Ave.

Finally, school is starting back up. UWSP moves in this weekend and we’ll have thousands of new community members learning their way around the city. Please be patient and helpful as we welcome them to Stevens Point. Drive carefully and keep an eye out for young people walking, biking or skateboarding.

From the Desk of Mayor Mike

In the hopes of getting the word out more about the topics that you want to know about, this column will highlight some of the issues we’ll be considering at our regular Common Council meeting on Monday, August 16th at 7pm in the Community Room at 933 Michigan Ave.

Our meeting agendas are posted in several locations before the meetings, but not everyone sees them. Rather than you reading about what has already happened, this column will highlight some of the things that are coming up in our meetings. As always, I’d love feedback on ways to improve this, so please reach out via stevenspoint.com and send me an email or even a quick call.

The Finance Committee approved a motion to fund all sidewalk continuation projects through the property tax levy that will likely result in an increase. This has had no real opportunity for public discussion as the issue was only brought up in last Monday’s meeting and Council could approve this on Monday.

We will also seek approval for our regular revaluation of assessed properties in the city as mandated by the State, when we fall out of their compliance rules.

Our Transportation Manager, Susan Lemke, has recently retired from the City. We thank her for years of dedicated service and wish her well. Because of the retirement, The Personnel Committee approved the restructuring of the management team. The Personnel Committee also approved a request for reclassification for two positions in our Economic Development team as well as consideration of a stipend pay for those who acquire additional related (and approved) professional certifications.

A few street closings for events are going to be considered for the Pointoberfest and Blubber Run on September 18th, Give & Live Better 5k run/walk on August 28th and the 5th annual Purple Ribbon Walk on October 1st. We will also be discussing updates to our public participation plan for Community Development Block Grant Funding.

We’re also approving our fall paving projects at a cost of just over $236,000 from American Asphalt.

Most meetings happen on Monday evening, but not all. All of our agendas, along with documents related to these items can be found at stevenspoint.com or our mobile app. You can find the meetings live streamed or after the fact on 105.9 WSNP-LP, our cable access channel or from our website.

Why a blog?

Since I’ve taken office, I’ve strived to find ways to not only keep people informed about what is going on in our community, but tried to encourage people to become involved.

We’ve enhanced our cable access channel, started our own radio station (WSMP-LP 105.9FM), created a City app for iOS and Android phones, formed several citizen advisory committees and tried to better utilize social media. This next step comes from ideas generated by your Alderpersons who are looking for ways to better connect with their constituents and keep them informed about things going on in their respective districts.

I give you….. the Blog! Blog is a combination of two words, web and log. The concept has been around for many years as a way for people to put thoughts to paper (virtual paper, I guess) and share it with anyone who cares to read it.

As a public entity, we need to follow a few laws and therefore we do not allow comments or discussions to take place on a blog. If you want to share your thoughts with me or any of the Alders, contact us directly.

Also, it is important to note that anything written in this blog or any other blog for that matter, do not necessarily reflect those of the City of Stevens Point or should be taken as such.

From time to time, I may post thoughts or share some of the things your City has been working on. We’ll monitor to see how useful the blog is as yet another tool to help you connect with your local government.