If you wonder why certain things don't move forward in Franklin, perhaps the following will give you a taste of the sort of attitude that creates municipal inertia.
An interesting sequence of events at last night's Economic Development Commission meeting. With just enough members present to create a quorum, we addressed the following agenda item:
Presentation by Hitters Baseball Academy concerning plans for a new baseball facility located on South 27th Street near County Line Road
The pitch was straightforward enough: Hitters Baseball Academy, currently operating in Racine, sees an opportunity to create a year-round, indoor/outdoor baseball facility on what is now a soybean field on the edge of town. An 80,000 square foot building would be built on the land along with four full-sized turf baseball fields (turf ballfields remain green year-round). The owners of the land are ready to fully finance the project; they could break ground tomorrow. They are asking for no financial support or incentives from the city.
When presented to the Common Council, there was evidently a hang-up with "27th Street Corridor design standards" -- not very relevant, as the complex would be set far back from 27th Street (one might conjecture that restaurants and even hotels might locate on 27th street to support the baseball facility, and they would have to conform to the design standard).
Hitter's has a business plan that includes past performance. They've grown steadily in their Racine location, and have consistently brought in traveling teams and visitor traffic that rent rooms and use restaurants. Franklin would be home to an attraction that would fuel surrounding commercial development.
No-brainer: Whether or not you think Hitter's is right for the area, let's take a close look at this possibility, right?
One particular EDC Commissioner said the following:
"Just to remind the commissioners, about a year and a half ago we set forth direction for the southeastern quadrant of the city to be high-value business development, and this is one of the parcels that is recommended as part of the Comprehensive Master Plan that is going on. The dollars-per-acre that we would yield in high-value business development would be different from this; totally different concept."
"If we're looking to build tax base in the city of Franklin, this will not build the type of tax base that this portion of the city was talking about doing a year and half ago."
However, further questioning of the Hitters rep revealed a very, very significant factor: The landowners would lease the land and buildings to Hitters Baseball Academy. If another Northwestern Mutual or Wheaton Medical Center were to express interest in the land -- of course, creating a greater payoff for the owners of the land and higher dollars-per-acre value for the city --the baseball faculty would vacate. They could roll up the fields in a weekend, evidently.
Furthermore (the substance of my comments at the meeting): Any economic development assumptions made a year and a half ago (or, indeed, six months ago!) are, frankly, worthless today. I've said it before: The road that got you here won't get you there. We either remain flexible and creative, constantly re-assessing conditions and outdated notions, or stand like a jilted groom at the altar, waiting in vain for the sort of early-90s style development that is now past history.
EDC Chairman Skowronski said it best: "A bird in the hand...".
The EDC is an advisory body; we can only recommend action to the Common Council. So the motion was made that the EDC recommend to the Common Council that they investigate the potential of the project.
Read that again: The EDC voted on nothing more than whether to recommend further study of the project in light of changing economic conditions and the unique parameters of the project.
The motion does not say, "Yep - BUILD IT!" It says, "Let's look into this - we're not necessarily for or against it, but it may have potential."
Let the record show that every commissioner voted "aye," except for the commissioner I quoted at length above, who voted "no".
He left before I could ask him, with all due respect, exactly what he was voting against.
The Franklin Little League complex is on 76th Street. Not that it matters, of course, in a city that builds for cars, not for people.
There is a hearing on the project from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Franklin Law Center on Loomis Road.
There are four options that are being considered. The options include: a four-lane highway with no median and no sidewalks, a four-lane highway with no median and a sidewalk, a four-lane highway with an 18-foot-wide median and no sidewalks and a four-lane highway with an 18-foot-wide median with a sidewalk.
If the City of Franklin cannot reach a decision by June 15, Milwaukee County will move forward with plans to construct a four-lane highway without a median or sidewalks in 2012.
Home prices in Las Vegas are down by 60 percent from 2006 in one of the steepest descents in modern times. There are 9,517 spanking new houses sitting empty. An additional 5,600 homes were repossessed by lenders in the first three months of this year and could soon be for sale.
Yet builders here are putting up 1,100 homes, and they are frantically buying lots for even more.
Disregard what you may have heard about how hard times may usher in an era of restraint. “With our buyers, they always want bigger,” Mr. Canarelli said. An American West home introduced during the recession comes equipped with an elevator.
A new study from the Brookings Institution, “The State
of Metropolitan America,” shows that, for the first time, America’s
suburbs are more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a
rapidly growing older population, while younger, educated whites move
to cities for better jobs and shorter commutes. The report analyzes
census data from 2000-2008 in the United States’ 100 largest
metropolitan areas, revealing a reversal of historical demographic
trends. (See an interactive map here.)
So, the question is: What will suburbs like mine do to meet this challenge?
I can tell you what Franklin, Wisconsin is currently doing: Nothing.
No initiatives, projects, forums, or incentive programs. In fact, we just pledged a half million dollars to a neighboring community for a superfluous highway interchange, a move that tells the world that Franklin is still about a decade behind the curve.
And, unfortunately, the collegial environment depicted in the photo above is virtually nonexistent in my suburb, and it's something savvy first-time home-buyers are much more aware of now than they were, say, ten years ago (I, for one, was not a savvy home-buyer when it came to judging the community surrounding my house.)
Many trade city living for the traditionally strong school districts found in suburbs; "Sure, I'm isolated and can't get anywhere without a car, but my kids are in a good school." However, strangled as they are by ill-fated TIF deals and taxpayer revolts ("My property tax is too high!"), suburban school districts are facing imminent decline. Franklin's school district is cutting an alarming number of positions, and the high school is an old relic.
We may be looking at a whole new attitude toward the idea of home ownership. From The Atlantic website:
Houses make sense when you're rooted, financially and geographically. The future of the America is itinerant, flexible, and wary of burying money in an immobile "economic trap." Throw in the 100 million Americans we're expected to add in the next four decades, and you've got a congestion problem that suggests we should replace front lawns and sedans with apartments and trains.
The blog's author, Derek Thompson, is referring to opinions set forth in Richard Florida's new book, THE GREAT RESET (which is the very first e-book I purchased for my iPad).
Thompson quotes the following from Florida's book:
We've reached the limits of what George W. Bush used to call the "ownership society." Owning your own home made sense when people could hope to hold a job for most or all of their lives. But in an economy that revolves around mobility and flexibility, a house that can't be sold becomes an economic trap, preventing people from moving freely to economic opportunity. Not only has that piece of the American Dream grown dark, but it's also clear that financial excess in the housing sector was one of the central causes of the economic crisis. The rate of home ownership has been on the decline for some time now. Many of those who still choose to buy homes will choose smaller ones, while many more will opt for rental housing.
Our new way of life is likely to depend a whole lot less on the car. In October 2009, The New York Times reported "...After more than a century in which an automobile represented the American dream, car enthusiasm may no longer be a part of Americans' DNA." Car culture no longer exerts the powerful pull it once did. More and more families are deciding to share cars, and young people are putting off buying them and using public transit, bikes, their feet or Zipcars (membership-based, easy-access short-term car rentals) instead. It's not just that oil and gas have become expensive, it's that traffic and gridlock have become a deadweight time cost on us and our economy.
At the same time, Franklin is pouring money into a streetscape design for a commercial strip that all but ignores transit options like dedicated bus lanes and Zipcar facilities. Instead, our big-ticket item on 27th Street is "enhanced lighting" - the seventh most popular item mentioned on preference surveys, as Franklin Alderman (and 27th Street Steering Committee Chairman) Steve Olson is fond of reminding us.
If success and sustainability are a destination, perhaps it's time suburbs - mine in particular - realize that the road that brought them here won't get them there.
Frankly, it would be superfluous and fairly gratuitous to comment any length on this sad screed (I've already dismantled the hopelessly under-equipped Mr. Kenitz a few years back over his dismal understanding of the Wal-Mart economy), except to note that our slide into rec-room culture is hastened by such short-sighted drivel.
Federal Conservatives and Local Liberals
By Community Columnist Dan Kenitz
Hartford is located in conservative Washington County. So it's a low-taxing, low-spending utopia, right?
Not exactly. Many Hartford conservatives stop being conservatives when it comes to projects within a five-mile radius of themselves. One such project is the new library, currently under construction. On March 13, Hartford officials broke ground on the Jack Russell Memorial Library, a 35,000-square-foot building that is estimated to cost more than $10 million.
The library is funded by an initial $2 million donation by Russell's widow, the late Geraldine Russell, $1 million from library trust fund savings, $2.2 million from local supporter donations and the remaining $5 million earmarked in the city 2012 capital improvement budget. Taxpayers are being forced to spend $5 million without so much as the courtesy of a referendum.
Many Hartford locals will tell you the new library has been needed for a while. After all, says the Jack Russell Memorial Library Web site, the Hartford library's circulation sank from 196,103 in 2001 to 170,724 in 2008. Egad! We have a library crisis on our hands.
[NOTE TO MR. KENITZ: The population of Hartford, Wisconsin increased 27% from 2000 to 2008.]
Of course, on the same Web site - on the same page, no less - the library notes that the circulation increase to 170,724 since 1985 is a reason the library needs more space.
On then one hand, having a circulation of 170,724 is too low, so we need a new library. On the other hand, having a circulation of 170,724 is too high, so we need a new library.
Supposedly, limited space is making the Hartford library less competitive with neighboring libraries. The Web site will tell you that more than 17,000 items were borrowed by Hartford residents at different libraries across Washington County in 2008, libraries that likely include those of neighboring Slinger and West Bend.
I always thought competition was something a restaurant needs to worry about, not a library supported by property taxes. But never mind that. To compete with neighboring libraries - the ones taking all of our valuable, non-paying library traffic away - doesn't it make sense that Hartford should drop $10 million on a two-story, 35,500-square foot behemoth?
Well, no. Not when the Slinger Community Library already manages to take Hartford library checkouts away with just 7,200 square feet.
I have that number because I called the Slinger library, asked and was answered. To be sure, West Bend's library is massive - more than 60,000 square feet. But when I called it and posed the same question, I was redirected twice and ended up at someone's voicemail. Weeks later, I still haven't been called back. Is that what millions of library dollars buy?
I ended up finding West Bend's square footage online, using a free worldwide indexing service known as Google.
Speaking of modern technology: With $10 million, couldn't we just buy everyone in Hartford an iPad? With the money left over, we could have each iPad personally engraved. The problem, of course, is that such a strategy doesn't accomplish the nobler task of having a library as cool as West Bend's.
Although $5 million in city tax money will go to the library, taxpayers were never allowed to vote on it in the form of a referendum. That's a failure of government. When Hartford voters recently had a chance to vote in Ald. Tim Michalak as mayor - the candidate who supported a referendum and said simply, "I want to ask the voters about this" - they didn't vote him in. That's a failure of self-government.
The library will be built, but you can still learn from Hartford's mistakes: If you consider yourself a fiscal conservative, make sure that your principles also apply within a five-mile radius of your house.
To help you find that radius, don't call a library. I suggest Google Maps.
On the 10th anniversary of the state's Smart Growth law, leaders of the Wisconsin Builders Association and the Wisconsin Realtors Association gave the innovative comprehensive planning initiative a qualified endorsement.
At a conclave sponsored by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin called Smart Growth@10, Jerry Deschane, Builders Association executive vice president, said his organization went into the legislative process "kicking and screaming" a decade ago, but participated in the drafting of the law, which he now regards as "a good planning statute."
The new planning approach helped by making local plans "more data driven" and therefore more effective, he said.
Although implementation of the law is just beginning, Tom Larson, director of regulatory and legislative affairs for the Realtors group, said his organization is "cautiously optimistic" it will yield good results.
The drafting of the comprehensive plans at the local level over the past 10 years benefited greatly from the improved level of public participation and from making planning "more proactive instead of reactive," he said.
Nearly 90% of the counties, cities, villages and towns met the Jan. 1 deadline for completing their comprehensive Smart Growth plans. That's a big advance from 2000, when only one-quarter of local units had any kind of plan and only a small percentage had a comprehensive plan.
Many of those who were there at the creation of the Smart Growth Law convened at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison to evaluate what they had wrought. In general, they were happy with the progress, but each had an agenda for improvements.
ABOVE: Don't harsh his mellow, man, with tales of burger huts and drive-thrus
The above-pictured State Rep. Mark "Keggermeister" Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) is quoted in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "I am just stoked up to no end because it's going to be good for the region. The potential is awesome."
If the Drexel Interchange treats the intersection of Drexel and 27th the way it did the corner of Rawson and Drexel (just off the Rawson Interchange), we have an adult bookstore, a gas station, a vacant lot, and a bar to look forward to.
I've pasted below the portion of Alderman Kristen Wilhelm's May constituent update email that pertains to the half-million dollars we now owe Oak Creek for their interchange:
Here is the update from the Saturday Special Council meeting, which was called by Alderman Olson and Solomon in response to the DOT May 1st Drexel Interchange cost share deadline. Below is the motion with an interpretation and an explanation from my point of view. I think you’ll find this interesting if you can get through it all.
Alderman Solomon moved and Alderman Olson seconded to approve, in response to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation stated May 1, 2010 deadline, and to authorize the Mayor, City Clerk and Director of Finance and Treasurer to execute and deliver a State/Municipal Agreement for a Highway Improvement Project: 27th Street (STH 241) with the Department of Transportation, containing the Department’s standard terms and conditions and providing estimated costs and that a separate Municipal agreement shall address further Municipal cost share for the 27th Street Project, and further providing for lighting improvements within the City of Franklin, with the understanding and provision that: i) the lighting costs of $500,000 to be paid thereunder would otherwise be the responsibility of the Department of Transportation under standard cost sharing requirements, and the City of Oak Creek agrees that the lighting costs payment is in full satisfaction of any City of Franklin obligation under Article IV. of that certain June, 2009 Memorandum of Understanding with Oak Creek; ii) the $500,000 to be paid thereunder qualifies as project costs to be paid by tax increment for the applicable Tax Incremental District(s); iii) the Wisconsin Department of Transportation agrees that this extraordinary one-time lump sum payment shall not be increased and shall not be due until the commencement of the 27th Street project no earlier than 2013, and that the Department of Transportation shall obtain the current intended timely construction of the Drexel Avenue Interchange without municipal cost share funding from the City of Franklin.
The vote was 3-3, Motion passed 4 - 3 (Mayor Taylor breaking the tie).
Basically the motion means Franklin will use TIF funds to pay $500,000 (.5 M) for lighting on 27th Street, knowing this cost would have been paid by the DOT, but it allows the DOT to shift the amount of their 27th Street cost obligations toward constructing the I-94 Drexel Interchange in Oak Creek. This swap was arranged because Franklin TIF dollars cannot be used in another community. An important point to remember here is that the DOT would have paid for the 27th Street lighting. The $500,000 of Franklin money is in essence a contribution to the I-94 Drexel Interchange.
This is a Federal US Highway and the entire Interchange is in Oak Creek. At this point, the DOT is committed to improving Drexel Avenue to 4 lanes heading EAST, deeper into Oak Creek, but NOT WEST toward 27th Street and Franklin. There is a plan for Oak Creek to do this westward improvement, but no commitment or funding exists. Our city should not pay to get a lesser level of service. Our $500,000 contribution, to an improvement on a federal interstate highway in another city, should at least provide benefits to us in terms of a commitment to Drexel Avenue improvements in the direction of our border business district (27th Street).
This action was far from perfect for Franklin taxpayers; therefore I was NOT able to support the motion. I won’t be too critical of my colleague’s vote; after all I know the “idea” was to support economic development and I do have to work with them in the future. However as I see it, the economic train is headed toward Oak Creek on the back of your wallets because the DOT will construct the interchange and eastward Drexel Avenue improvements, but there is no timeline or official commitment from Oak Creek on improving the westward section of Drexel to 27th Street and Franklin.
I brought these points up in council and asked HOW LONG would Franklin have to wait with a less-than-functional Drexel Avenue toward 27th Street and there was no concrete answer. I was told to “have faith” in vague and un-funded plans. Even with “faith” the question still remains as to WHEN?
While many see the Interchange as bringing economic development to the 27th St corridor, without a wider westward Drexel it may just do the opposite for Franklin. Presently, Franklin is well served by College, Rawson and Ryan Interchanges and the 27th St. exit. Businesses need traffic to survive. Funneling traffic away from these exits will drain customers from Franklin taxpaying businesses. Here is the economic impact statement from the DOT’s report:
DOT REPORT-Changes in Travel Patterns I-94 is already a well-established travel route. If capacity is added to the study-area freeway system, more drivers may use the freeway system as opposed to local roads. A new interchange with I-94 at Drexel Avenue and a full interchange with I-94 at 27th Street would change travel patterns. More drivers would use Drexel Avenue, and less would use Ryan and Rawson Avenues (see Section 4.3, Transportation Impacts and Section 4.2.1, Indirect Effects).
According to Alderman and Finance Chair Tim Solomon, Franklin has already invested $15M in the 27th St Corridor without funding from Oak Creek even though they see some benefit. All of the I-94 Drexel Interchange is in Oak Creek. Had we let the market demand drive the construction of the Interchange, the DOT would not have required any municipal cost share. This is based on DOT policy that roadway reconstruction is paid 100 percent if the local traffic is not more than 40 percent of the traffic.
In the end I was able to get a second motion that in essence directed negotiations with Oak Creek for an answer or official commitment regarding Drexel Avenue improvements. It would have made more sense for an agreement to have been put in place (as far back as 2006) PRIOR to the commitment of .5M of your money. This is three times the cost of tornado sirens, which the city has dithered about for over a decade. The same amount of money could have provided impressive benefits in increased police, fire and other city services; more direct benefits to you the taxpayer than dubious projects claiming to bring 40,000 jobs, which is more than the population of Franklin. Let’s all hope Oak Creek is capable of coming through very shortly with funding for the reconstruction of westward Drexel Avenue.
[Franklin Fire Chief] Martins puts it this way: “How would we explain to a widow of one of our firefighters,” he wonders, “that your husband was killed while responding to a broken ankle?”
Bertram imagines the firefighter dying responding to what is called a “lift assist” in the world of emergency response. In his scenario, someone fell out of bed and needs help getting back up. Racing to the house, the ambulance wrecks, and the responder dies.
Until March 2009, the Franklin Fire Department’s four ambulances ran lights-and-sirens (“signal 10” in responder lingo) to all 911 calls. Then, for three months, the department used a special protocol Bertram devised with help from the Milwaukee County and Wisconsin programs charged with medical oversight of EMS units.
In essence, according to Bertram, if the 911 dispatcher, using the protocol, determines the emergency isn’t life-threatening, the ambulance doesn’t run lights and siren. It doesn’t run red lights. It follows the normal flow of traffic.