Council OKs blight district on 2nd try

RDA will create plan to address issues
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Despite continued resistance from some property owners, the Shawano Common Council on Wednesday decided that any lingering questions about a proposed blight elimination district had been addressed sufficiently enough to approve a boundary map for the district.

The unanimous vote came a month after the council rejected the map and voted 5-1 to send it back to the Redevelopment Authority for reconsideration.

City officials, however, never provided the RDA with any guidance on what the new boundaries should look like, so it came back to the council Wednesday unchanged.

In a separate resolution, the council unanimously approved designating the RDA district a blighted area and empowering the RDA to create a plan for addressing blighted properties in the district.

The plan will go through a public workshop session and public hearing before it goes to the council for approval.

Wednesday’s meeting included a presentation from RDA consultant Vierbicher, seeking to address some of the questions residents and council members had at last month’s meeting.

One of those concerns was whether the city was ceding any powers to the RDA; any RDA actions would have to be approved by the Common Council.

There was extended discussion of what it meant to be on the so-called list of blighted properties and how a property gets off it once the property is improved.

“There’s really no getting in or out or off the list,” RDA Chair Amanda Sheppard said, explaining that the boundary only designates an area where some of the properties are blighted and need to be addressed.

She said the only list the RDA has is a list of priorities within the district in need of the most attention.

“I think that’s where this list has come from that has come into people’s minds,” she said.

Quasan Shaw of Vierbicher said the blight label would not affect the value of a property, which prompted a round of guffaws from some audience members.

“The physical condition of your property will affect the value and that will affect your tax value,” he said, “but being labeled blighted in terms of this plan, it will not affect the valuation of so much property.”

City Administrator Brian Knapp said a property within the district boundary would still be on the list of properties in the district but would no longer have the blight designation.
RDA member Dave Kerber said property values in the district are already falling because of blight.

“Just because we’re creating this RDA (district) does not decrease the value of anyone’s property. They’re already down,” he said. “In some cases, when a property owner doesn’t take care of their property, the property values (in that area) already drop.”

Kerber said he saw the RDA as a proactive measure for business and property owners.

“I think everything we’re trying to do here as an RDA will raise values,” he said.

The council heard from about half a dozen property owners who remained unconvinced, however. Most of them raised the same objections at last month’s council meeting.

“I think you need to think hard and long about what you’re doing to this city,” Bart Huntington said.

Jim Oberstein encouraged the council not to approve the boundary map and to send it back to the RDA for changes.

“There are major issues with these resolutions that have not been resolved. Take the time to do it right the first time,” he said.

Deb Noffke said city officials haven’t listened to property owners’ concerns, saying it wasn’t the creation of a district that was the problem.

“It’s the declaration of blight,” she said.

Noffke also maintained the city could not certify the extent of blight in the district because of improvements made to some properties since the survey of the area was taken.

She also said local businesses were being over-regulated.

“It would be nice if we could be a little more business-friendly town,” she said.

There were also concerns raised about the possibility of condemnation proceedings and the use eminent domain, but city officials said they wanted to work with property owners to improve their properties, not acquire them.

“It does no advantage to the city to own property and take it off the tax rolls,” Assistant City Administrator Eddie Sheppard said.

Alderwoman Lisa Hoffman, who voted against the boundary map last month, said questions raised by the public were answered Wednesday, even if some property owners were not willing to accept the answers.

“I hope this doesn’t sound harsh in saying this but if you choose not to listen to the answer that was given, then there’s not anything this council is going to say over and over again that’s going to change opinion on that,” she said.

The RDA district roughly follows the contours of Tax Incremental Finance districts already designated for blight elimination along Main Street from the Wolf River bridge on the north to Wescott Avenue on the south, and along Green Bay Street from Main Street on the west to Rusch Road on the east.

There are 391 properties within the boundaries of the RDA district. Just over half of them are considered blighted or in need of redevelopment.

Under state law, a municipality can designate a blight redevelopment district if at least 50 percent of the property within the proposed district is blighted, which means “a predominance of structures, buildings, or improvements that are dilapidated, deteriorated, obsolete, or conditions that are detrimental to public health and safety.”