RDA plans more educational outreach

Officials say people misunderstand blighted designation
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The Shawano Redevelopment Authority has its first rehab project on its hands — salvaging its relevance and possibly even its continued existence.

The RDA met on Thursday to discuss the path forward a week after the Common Council rejected a proposed blight elimination district and sent it back to the RDA for reconsideration.

The council vote followed comments from a parade of property owners upset after being informed their properties were within the district.

“It seems there is some confusion in the community. There’s been some misinformation and maybe a general lack of education about what we’re trying to do here,” RDA Chairperson Amanda Sheppard said. “We probably missed a step in the education part of this.”

Sheppard said the goal of the RDA is to provide assistance to developers and property owners who want to improve their properties.

Assistant City Administrator Eddie Sheppard, who has been working with the RDA as support staff, said he is now looking to set up some workshop meetings between the RDA and the Common Council, “and just sort of start over.”

The meetings, which would be open to the public, would be followed by an open house where the public could voice their concerns and get their questions answered about the proposed district boundary and the project plan for dealing with blighted properties within the district.

“I want to first meet with the council to make sure this is the direction that they want to go,” Sheppard said.

He said the meetings would take place over the next few months, which will delay any other RDA activity in the meantime.

“I think we’re looking at a three- to four-month delay on this before being able to move forward, if we move forward at all,” he said.

“The term blighted hurt a lot of people’s feelings,” Sheppard said, through the RDA was statutorily required to use that term.

Under state law, a municipality can designated a blight redevelopment district if at least 50 percent of the property within the proposed district is blighted.

The proposed district encompasses 391 properties, just over half of which are considered blighted.

The RDA’s primary focus, according to Sheppard, are long-vacant dilapidated properties.

“The buildings that we’re looking at have been vacant for years and years and years, are deteriorating, are falling over,” he said. “Those are the ones that are the targets.”

City Attorney Tim Schmid said one of the educational points that needs to be made to the Common Council is that it will be up to city officials to determine what should be done about those buildings.

“Do you want to address the vacant, blighted properties or not? The council’s going to have to decide,” he said. “Do we want the RDA to address these vacant buildings or not? Or do we want them to continue to deteriorate. I think that’s the ultimate question.”

Mayor Jeanne Cronce said there is a feeling in the community that action is long overdue.

“The general public is crying for something to be done with these buildings in town,” she said.

She said addressing those properties is vital to the growth of Shawano, and that public education about what the RDA is trying to accomplish is important to gaining community support.

“As a community, we know what needs to be done,” she said. “We just need to get the backing to do it. We want our downtown to stay vibrant and a focal point when you come to Shawano.”

Officials agreed that language statutorily required to be included in property owner notifications about the RDA’s power of eminent domain caused concern in the community.

“If I had received that letter, I would have been squawking because I wouldn’t have understood what that meant,” said Dennis Heling of Shawano County Economic Progress Inc. “I can probably agree with those folks and the feeling, ‘I’m being targeted,’ and that wasn’t the intent.”

Cronce said the RDA is not looking to invoke eminent domain.

“We’re not looking to take people’s property,” she said. “We’re not looking to do anything but improve our city. That’s the main focus of this. It’s the only focus of this. We do need to continue to educate and hopefully people will understand that. This is a positive, not a negative.”