News

My Role on the Mequon Common Council

Tonight, my colleagues on the Common Council elected me to be President of the Council. I am honored, particularly considering that only two of the aldermen served with me prior to my self-imposed three years away from the Council.

To some degree, being President is an honorific. The first responsibility is to nominate alderman for various committees. That happened tonight. The other primary responsibility is to serve when the Mayor is absent.

However, I plan to assume a third responsibility. I want to work this coming year on building collegiality among my colleagues. Collegiality does not mean we have to agree. We should not when we do not. However, we should work with each other, and with City staff, professionally and amicably. In my first decade on the Council, that was a hallmark of the Council. Lately, that has not always been the case. Our three newest Council members have a lot to offer and have the opportunity to accomplish great things. However, they and the rest of us will be less effective if we deal with each other with suspicion and hostility. Federal and state lawmakers act that way, and see how functional they are.

At the beginning of each Council year, I give some thought about my role as a member of the Common Council. I made these remarks (click here) when I left the Council five years ago, and again when I ran two years ago. They still hold true today.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You, Candidates

Every year, we have a bunch of people who step forward to give their time to our county, city and school district. These people are not looking for jobs. Most have full-time jobs or are retired. Unless they are delusional, and I know most are not, they are not looking for power, money or fame. These positions give the officeholders none of those things.

Instead, they are offering their time and talent as a public service. Our institutions would not work without them.

Yet, in order to give their time and talent, they spend money and many hours campaigning. They also subject themselves to the electorate, a process that can be humbling and nerve-racking. Moreover, and often worse, they subject themselves to accusation and mud thrown their way (again, all for the opportunity to serve others). Most do it honorably.

Tonight, the following 17 Mequonites (and one Thiensvillian) had their names on a ballot. Win or lose, each made a contribution by running. Please join me in thanking them (names of the people who will take office are italicized):

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 19         Bruce Ross and LeRoy Haeuser

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 20         Patrick Marchese and Noel Williams

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 21         Justin Strom and Bob Walerstein

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 23         David Henrichs

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 24         Janette Braverman

Ozaukee County Supervisor District 26         Jennifer Rothstein

Mequon Alderman District 6                          Brian Schneider and Lewis Chamoy

Mequon Alderman District 7                          Kathleen Schneider and Chris Schelble

Mequon Alderman District 8                          Andrew Nerbun and Kim Steinbrenner

Mequon-Thiensville  School Board                John Daniels, Paula Taebel and Shelley Burns

I look forward to serving with Brian, Kathleen and Andrew, and hope to have opportunities to build relationships with the other bodies through the other officeholders.

Upcoming Mequon Common Council Election – Please Vote

Candidates2

If you live in District 6, 7 or 8 (southeastern Mequon and along the lake south of Highland), please remember that there is a contested election for the Common Council in your area. Early voting has started at City Hall and runs through Friday, March 30. Election Day is Tuesday, April 3.

We need Common Council members who appreciate our great community and want to improve Mequon rather than tearing it down. We can keep taxes low, have great police, fire and ambulance departments, maintain roads, improve the City’s services and plan for the future without being divisive. I hope that whoever is elected will work toward those ends.

Read about the candidates by clicking on the following links:

District 6: Brian Schneider and Lewis Chamoy

District 7: Chris Schelble and Kathleen Schneider (inc.)

District 8: Kim Steinbrenner and Andrew Nerbun (inc.)

 

 

Anonymous Websites and Emails: A Right, Yes, But What Do They Say About the Writers?

I receive a lot of emails from Mequon residents as a result of my Updates, Facebook page and website posts. I try to respond to all of them. Many of the writers and I agree, but not always. Most of the writers are polite and thoughtful. I try to be the same.

Occasionally, however, someone writes anonymously. Those writers have an email address that does not identify them and, almost always, are uncivil and condescending. I usually respond and ask who I am writing to. I never receive a response.

From time to time, someone does this on a grander scale. They create a website with a civic-minded organizational name and distribute emails under that name. They do not identify themselves; instead, they say something like “we are residents and neighbors who are concerned about the future of Mequon.” Invariably, such people (usually, it is only one or two people) spread half-truths and try to inflame the public. Often they do this for self-gain: political aspiration, personal aggrandizement or to advance a cause in which they have a personal interest.

In the language of today’s political debate, this is often “Fake News.” According to the Urban Dictionary, the people who do this are “Trolls” (“one who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument”).

These “concerned” residents have an absolute right to do this. But, what does it say about the writers? Are they afraid to put their names with their accusations? Isn’t this just a form of cowardice?

Mequon has a new group circulating this kind of stuff. I am not going to post the name of their website – why give them publicity?

The irony is that they “demand transparency.”

However, one of these writers has left a traceable trail. I know who he is. I expect that this is a precursor to a run for office. I challenge him and his other “concerned” residents to come out of hiding and put their names on their website and emails.

Debates should be civil and public, not cloaked in anonymity.

New State Law Alters Mequon’s Zoning Powers

The Wisconsin legislature recently made significant changes to the rules regarding conditional use permits. The changes are likely, over time, to have profound impacts on Mequon’s planning and zoning authority. Based on these changes, it is time for a comprehensive review of Mequon’s conditional use ordinances.

Zoning Classifications

Under most zoning codes, including Mequon’s, uses in a zoning district fall within three basic categories: permitted uses, conditional uses and accessory uses. A permitted use is a use that is automatically, without discretion, allowed in the zoning district. So, for example, professional and business offices are allowed as a matter of right in Mequon’s B-3 zoning district. Accessory uses are uses that are allowed in conjunction with a permitted or allowed conditional use. So, for example, a parking garage is not allowed as a standalone use in the B-3 district but is allowed to be built with an office building.

A conditional use is a use that might be allowed in a district under certain conditions. Mequon’s zoning code lists various conditional uses for its zoning districts. The Planning Commission reviews applications for conditional uses and determines whether the particular proposed conditional use is appropriate in the particular location.

So, for example, restaurants are allowed in certain zoning districts as conditional uses. When the City receives an application for a restaurant in one of those districts, it reviews whether the use is compatible with surrounding uses (e.g., is it next to single-family homes), whether noise or light will bother adjoining uses, hours of operation, and so forth. The City approves, denies or conditions the application.

Mequon’s ordinances contain a wide variety of conditional uses: agricultural uses in residential districts; commercial hatcheries and greenhouses in agricultural districts; houses of worship in many zoning classifications; residential quarters for owners in some business districts; warehousing and distribution centers; and a myriad of other uses.

Law Change

Under the new statute, it is virtually impossible to deny a conditional use application. The statute provides that  “if an applicant for a conditional use permit meets or agrees to meet all of the requirements and conditions specified in the city ordinance or those imposed by the city zoning board, the city shall grant the conditional use permit.” In the past, the Planning Commission denied some applications because the particular use did not fit the particular property. Now, the Planning Commission may only impose conditions. If the applicant is willing to accept those conditions, the applicant is entitled to the conditional use permit.

However, the law does not stop there. It significantly limits the conditions that can be imposed by the Planning Commission.

First, the new law requires that standards governing conditional uses be “reasonable and, to the extent practicable, measurable….” This requirement is certain to lead to  litigation. Mequon has considered all sorts of factors, including odors, aesthetics, safety and similar factors when considering conditional uses. Most of these factors are not measurable. The statute does not clarify what is intended by “to the extent practicable.”

Second, any conditions imposed by the Planning Commission must be reasonable and the decision to approve or deny must be based on “substantial evidence.” The Planning Commission cannot impose conditions that are not mandated by our ordinances, such as hours of operation, ventilation or other conditions, unless there is “substantial evidence” that such conditions are necessary and reasonable. It is no longer enough that the City always requires such conditions.

Third, the new law prohibits the Planning Commission from deciding an application for a conditional use on “personal preferences or speculation.” Although we allow and require public testimony, the Planning Commission cannot, under the new law, make its decision based on that testimony unless, perhaps, the person providing the testimony is an acknowledged expert. It might be common sense that a particular use will harm adjoining property values (and our ordinances allow a denial based on such harm); however, under the new law, and the court decision that prompted it, denying a use based on common sense is likely to end up in a court challenge, and unless the decision is based on “measurable” standards with “substantial evidence,” the City would likely lose such a challenge.

Arguably, the changes are in large part a good thing. They prevent communities from being arbitrary. However, Mequon’s conditional use process, when fairly applied, has avoided bad uses and one property owner from harming another.

Again, the City should comprehensively review its conditional use ordinances. Mequon’s ordinances were written under the old statue. Unless we tighten those ordinances, we will likely face expensive litigation and may have unanticipated uses forced on the community that might harm and change the nature of our commercial and residential districts.

The City could consider eliminating some conditional uses in some districts; changing some conditional uses to permitted uses with more exact standards; establishing precise standards for conditional uses that have proven to be problematic; eliminating criteria that are no longer enforceable; establishing evidence that applicants must provide with applications; and requiring grants to be in writing with specific findings of fact that have been reviewed and approved by the Planning Commission.

 

Houses of Worship: an Integral Part of the Fabric of a Community

For a large part of our community, and for many people who want to move into Mequon, our houses of worship are important. For many, they are far more important than anything our government does. Without them, many of us would live elsewhere.

Mequon recently spent time and money updating its website. The new website  has room for improvement, and that will happen over time; however, the new site is much better than the old.

The new website attempts to tout how Mequon is a great place to live and a great place to do business. There are whole sections of the website dedicated to those two ideas.

Yet, despite this idea, the website ignores many of the institutions that make our community what it is. Some in City government forget that the community is much more than the public services provided by City government and the school district. If we truly want people to think Mequon is a great place to live, we should at least acknowledge the groups and institutions that build community. Those institutions are part of what sells our community to others.

I have suggested that the City should add basic information to the website about its houses of worship (similarly, I would add information about service organizations and other contributors). So far, my suggestion, at least at the Public Welfare Committee, has fallen on deaf ears.

Clearly, if we do not play favorites, any such list would not run afoul of the First Amendment. We should not endorse religious participation, but we also should not ignore it.

Maybe, when the new Public Communications Policy gets to the whole Common Council, the policy will be changed. Perhaps not. Meanwhile, I can use this website (which is mine, not the City’s) to provide some of this information.

Here is the information I have compiled from the internet for houses of worship in Mequon-Thiensville. Please let me know if I made any mistakes or if I missed any houses of worship.

Catholic
Lumen Christi Catholic Church
Father Dan Sanders
2700 West Mequon Road, Mequon
262-242-7967
Website

Episcopal
St. Boniface Episcopal Church
Father Kenny Miller
3906 West Mequon Road, Mequon
262-242-2994
Website

Jehovah’s Witnesses
7420 West Donges Bay Road, Mequon
262-242-4780

Jewish
Congregation Anshai Lebowitz
Rabbi Ira Grussgott
2415 West Mequon Road, Mequon
262-512-1195

Lutheran

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church
Rev. Phillip Hillenbrand
11313 North Riverland Road, Mequon
262-242-6650
Website

Christ Alone Church
Rev. Don Scheuerlien
247 South Main Street, Thiensville
10001 North Cedarburg Road, Mequon
262-242-4710
Website

Christ Church
Rev. Bob Suhr
13460 North Port Washington Road
262-243-3093
Website

Grace Lutheran Church
Rev. William Beyer
303 Green Bay Road, Thiensville
262-242-1174
Website

 

 

 

(Lutheran Continued)
St. John’s Mequon
Rev. Jeremy Koehler
1616 West Mequon Road, Mequon
262-241-3121
Website

Trinity Ev. Lutheran Church of Freistadt
Rev. Carl Lehenbauer
10729 West Freistadt Road, Mequon
262-242-2045
Website

Methodist
Mequon United Methodist
Rev. Tim O’Brien
11011 North Oriole Lane Drive, Mequon
262-242-4770
Website

Other Christian Churches
Alliance Bible Church
Rev. Brian Dainsberg
13939 North Cedarburg Road, Mequon
262-375-4200
Website

North Shore Assembly
Rev. Lisa Larson
11040 North Range Line Road, Mequon
262-339-7897
Website

Presbyterian
Crossroads Presbyterian Church
Rev. Cheryl Galan
6031 West Chapel Hill Road, Mequon
262-242-1680
Website

Unitarian
Unitarian Church North
13800 North Port Washington Road, Mequon
262-375-3890
Website

United Pentecostal
Christian Life Church
Rev. Joseph Hanthorn
2909 West Mequon Road, Mequon
262-643-4602
Website

Mequon Update: October 9, 2017

Over the past week, the City has launched a new and improved website. Check it out. If you have questions or comments, please let  me know. The new platform is easily modified. Hopefully, the website will continue to improve to meet the City’s needs.
Mequon has many fine employees. Occasionally, one deserves special mention. Don Curran is retiring after 39 years of service to the City. For many years, Don has served as Director of Parks and Operations. He has found a way to maintain and improve a giant and excellent park system with little funding. Don is a humble guy, but he has quietly made a big contribution to our community. He will be missed.

The City has released some interesting statistics concerning the new subdivisions off of Wauwatosa Road between Mequon Road and Donges Bay Road (Enclave at Mequon Preserve and Highlander Estates). During the first 18 months of those developments (January of 2016 through June of 2017), 44 new single-family homes were built with an average home cost of approximately $342,150 (excluding land costs). More homes have been built since June.

The Appropriations Committee (the Common Council sitting as a budget deliberating committee) will meet on Tuesday, October 16, at 7:00 p.m. This is perhaps the most important thing the Common Council does each year. During this meeting, preliminary decisions will be made concerning spending and taxes for 2018. Then, at the November Common Council meeting, the Common Council further debates the budget, possibly amends it and then formally approves a budget.  A copy of the budget proposed by City staff can be found by clicking here.

Planning Commission

On, Monday, October 9, starting at 7:00 p.m., the Planning Commission will hold a meeting. Highlights include applications for approval of:

  1. A new outdoor dining patio for Zaffiro’s Restaurant at the Marcus North Shore Theater.  The patio would have hanging string lights similar to those at Cafe Hollander.
  2. New lot lines for Crossroads Presbyterian Church, 6031 West Chapel Hill Road, and its adjacent single family home.
  3. Rezoning and reconfiguration of the four-lot subdivision at 14907, 14137, 14155 and 14207 North Birchwood Lane.
  4. Fill for a residence at 12875 Highgate Court.
  5. An addition to the Clark gas station at 10335 North Port Washington Road. The addition would replace the shack behind the building.
  6. A 34,900 square foot addition to Christ Church on the 24.47 acre site at 13460 North Port Washington Road. The addition would be to the south and rear (east) of the existing building. Additionally, Christ Church requests approval of a 1,200 square foot garage. Christ Church anticipates a future 23,000 square foot addition.
  7. A mixed-use development at 6209 West Mequon Road and 11050, 11124 and 11127 North Industrial Avenue. The development is planned with a sit down restaurant, mixed-use retail center, 90 residential apartments, a brewery, a building with retail, office and corporate extended stay apartments and 23 single family homes. The project is estimated to have a value of $50 million. The Planning Commission reviewed this concept in August. There will be at least five more meetings, between the Planning Commission and the Common Council, before this project will be underway (it is possible that one or more of those meetings could be consolidated).
  8. Ordinance amendments for the Town Center and its adjacent Arrival Corridor. The amendments would (a) provide an opportunity for limited numbers of single family homes; (b) create new, somewhat more restrictive, standards for multi-family housing in the Arrival Corridor; and (c) change the zoning for The Reserve and the one property directly east of it from Arrival Corridor to Town Center.

Read more about these items by clicking here.

Committee of the Whole

The Committee of the Whole is nothing more than the Common Council meeting in a more informal manner to discuss an issue. The Committee of the Whole cannot make decisions; instead, items that call for a decision are again addressed at the Common Council.

On Tuesday, October 10, starting at 6:00 p.m., the Committee of the Whole will discuss reports recently received by the City regarding the Police and Fire/Ambulance Departments. The City engaged consultants to review staffing, responsiveness, procedures and equipment in both of these departments. The consultants’ reports are interesting. The consultants were generally complimentary but made some specific recommendations. Click here to learn more.

Common Council

On Tuesday, October 10, starting at 7:30 p.m., the Common Council will hold its October monthly meeting. It looks like another long meeting. Highlights include:
Four Public Hearings. Mequon has a long and proud tradition of allowing the public to comment on all matters in open session before the Common Council and its boards, commissions and committees; however, public hearings are required by law for certain ordinances and provide a specific opportunity for the public to give input.

  • Rezoning for a 32-unit, side-by-side condominium project at 12431 North Green Bay Road and the parcel immediately to the west.
  • Zoning code change allowing two-acre residential Planned Unit Developments.
  • Rezoning of the four residential properties along the west side of Granville Road just north of County Line Road from Rural Industrial to Residential.
  • Edits to the ordinances governing the architectural board, the board of appeals and landmarks.

All of these items are scheduled for consideration and potential final action later in the meeting.

Other Items. The Common Council will consider:

  1. An emerald ash borer policy.
  2. A potential sale of the Logemann property.
  3. Comprehensive modifications of the ordinances that govern the City’s boards, commissions and committees.  The Public Welfare Committee has worked on these changes for the past 15 months.  Proposed changes were forwarded to each of the City’s boards, commissions and committees for their input. The Public Welfare Committee adopted almost all of the recommendations from these bodies.
  4. A three-year extension of the Revolving Loan Fund loan made to the Bartolotta Restaurant Group. The loan was made a little over three years ago and was originally in the amount of $150,000. Payments have been made as required. The current balance owed is about $88,100.
  5. Exemption of WE Energies from the ordinances’ requirement that it pay the sum of $22,700 into the City’s green infrastructure fund. WE Energies removed some specimen trees, with City permission, in the process of replacing the gas main in the west side of the City. Ordinarily, a fee would be payable to the City’s fund; however, the ordinances allow exemption for utility projects where the exemption is appropriate and the project is for the public good.
  6. Engagement of a consultant to assist in establishing a capital asset management plan. The Common Council budgeted $25,000 for this purpose in the annual budget. As originally proposed by staff, the budgeted amount would provide a plan covering buildings, roads and major equipment. Now the $25,000 will only cover buildings, and the other components of the plan will possibly be addressed by future contracts.
  7. Participation in the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewage District’s Green Infrastructure Fund. Previously, the City could not opt out. It now can.
  8. A closed session to provide a personnel evaluation of the City Attorney. I expect that the Common Council will reconvene into open session to consider a possible extension of the City Attorney’s contract.

Read more about these items by clicking here.

City Committees

I am the aldermanic representative to the Planning Commission and Chair of Public Welfare Committee. All Common Council members serve on the Appropriates Committee, the Sewer Utility District Commission and the Water Utility Commission. In addition to my own committees, I will try to report on items of significance being considered by other committees.
The Public Welfare Committee will not be meeting on Tuesday at its normal time due to the Committee of the Whole meeting described above.
Public Works Committee (Tuesday, October 10, at 5:30 p.m.). Click here to learn more. The Public Works Committee will consider:

  1. The WE Energies exemption described above as Common Council Item #5.
  2. The consulting agreement described above as Common Council Item #6.
  3. The MMSD green infrastructure program participation described above as Common Council Item #7.

Finance–Personnel Committee (Tuesday, October 10, at 5:45 p.m.). Click here to learn more. In addition to its normal tasks of approving liquor licenses and payment vouchers, the Finance-Personnel Committee will review the Bartolotta’s Revolving Loan Fund extension described above as Common Council Item #4.

Architectural Board (Monday, October 9, at 6:30 p.m.). Click here to learn more. The Architectural Board will consider five new homes, eight additions or other residential construction projects and modifications to three homes previously before the Board.  Applicants come from Districts 1 through 5 and 7.

Other Upcoming Meetings

  1. The Public Safety Committee will hold its October meeting on Monday, October 16, at 6:00 p.m. An agenda has not yet been published.
  2. The Public Welfare Committee might meet later in the month.

Of course, please provide comments to me or to any elected official regarding these matters or any other City-related issue.