Library purchase runs into parking problem

City, county differ on deed restriction for library parking lot

Shawano County’s purchase of the city library might have struck a pothole Wednesday with the Shawano Finance Committee’s rejection of a proposed change to the purchase agreement covering the library parking lot.

The Shawano County Board last month approved the agreement purchase, which called for the county to pay the city $2 for the library and the parking lot as part of the consolidation of the county library system.

The city included a deed restriction in the agreement that stated the parking lot would continue to be available for all public parking as well as library parking.

Though the purchase agreement was unanimously approved by the County Board, there were questions raised about the fate of the parking lot if the county at some point in the future decided to relocate the library and sell the property.

County Corporation Counsel Tony Kordus sent an email to City Administrator Brian Knapp after the Jan. 24 County Board meeting stating the parking lot would remain available to the public as long as the library remained in operation.

However, he wrote, county board members were unlikely to agree that the parking lot should remain available to the public forever, even if years down the road, the library went away.

“That’s a pretty big restriction and I am doubtful based on today’s discussion at the board that they would approve it,” Kordus wrote.

Kordus offered new language for the purchase agreement that would have kept the parking lot public “as long as Shawano County continues to own and operate the library on the property.”

Knapp responded that the city’s intent was to keep the lot available for public parking indefinitely.

“While I don’t think that anyone is naive enough to expect it to be ‘forever,’ I do think they expect to keep it ‘public parking’ until someone convinces the Planning Commission and Council that it is better used for something else,” Knapp wrote. “That should not be seen as an unreasonably high threshold.”

Knapp also noted that downtown parking is often a problem.

City Attorney Tim Schmid wrote in a subsequent letter to Knapp that the county’s new language was a “substantial change” to the purchase agreement.

“I don’t recommend that the city agree to give the county the right to remove the public parking at the county’s pleasure,” he wrote.

The Shawano Finance Committee took up the question Wednesday, at first sounding open to the county’s position.

“I can see their point,” Alderwoman Rhonda Strebel said, adding that the deed restriction could hinder any future attempt by the county to sell the building.

“If I was going to buy that building, I would want the parking,” she said. “That would be one of the main reasons I would want that property is that it has the parking with it.”

Alderwoman Sandy Steinke said the issue wasn’t worth any conflict with the county.

“Is it worth a fight? I don’t think so,” she said.

Further discussion, however, centered on possible redevelopment in the area, particularly along East Green Bay Street, which could create a bigger need for public parking.

Knapp said there is nothing preventing the county from requesting the deed restriction be lifted in the future.

“At some point in the future, they sell the library or want to expand the library building on to the parking lot, they would simply come to the city and ask that the deed restriction be lifted because they’ve got a really good reason to do that,” Knapp told the committee. “Presumably you would agree and lift the deed restriction.”

Strebel and Steinke both voted to deny the new language. Alderman Bob Kurkiewicz was not present for the meeting.

The committee vote prevented the issue from being forwarded to the Common Council for consideration.

County Administrative Coordinator Brent Miller had not been notified about the vote when contacted Thursday. He said he would have to review with Kordus what the county’s next step would be.

Kordus could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Minutes from the Jan. 24 County Board meeting indicate there was discussion about the parking lot, but the approval to purchase was not contingent on the deed restriction being lifted.

County Supervisor Deb Noffke, who raised the issue at the County Board meeting, said, however, that there was an understanding among board members that Kordus would clarify the parking lot issue with the city and that “if there was a problem, it would come back to the board.”