Despite objections from residents in attendance, the Sun Prairie Plan Commission on July 9 voted 5-3 to recommend city council approval of the 2019-39 City of Sun Prairie Comprehensive Plan.
The plan will be cleaned up and include action items from the recently completed Main Street Corridor study, thanks to amendments made by the commission.
But the source of most of the complaints — the city’s sidewalk policy — will not be adopted in ordinance form if the commission has anything to say about it. That’s because commissioners voted 6-2 to remove language requiring the city council to adopt the city’s current sidewalk policy in amendment form.
Many residents complained that not only was the city’s sidewalk policy a “one size fits all” approach where even cul-de-sacs and eyebrows (half cul-de-sacs) received sidewalks, but also that many residents don’t event want them. They pointed to the results of the city’s Comprehensive Plan survey, where roughly 5 percent of the city’s population answered questions about the survey.
But commissioner Analiese Eicher, also a Dane County Supervisor, criticized the survey results, saying that many demographic areas of the city were over-represented by the results — a commentary that echoed comments in the survey itself.
But other city residents complained the Comprehensive Plan hearing itself — as well as the fact that the city’s sidewalk policy discussion as part of the hearing — were under-publicized.
Jason Valerius of MSA Professional Services, which conducted the Comprehensive Plan process, pointed out the plan was drafted following many public meetings and input sessions. Those sessions included a survey where residents received a postcard and could go online to fill out the survey, but also public meetings, focus groups, joint city council-plan commission sessions and the public hearing itself.
Valerius pointed out the Comprehensive Plan would be a “living document” that will certainly be changed and amended during its expected 20-year lifespan. A draft copy of the plan was made available both on the city’s website and in hard copy form at the Sun Prairie Municipal Building five weeks before Tuesday night’s public hearing.
Valerius said a Comprehensive Plan annual report will inform and guide city’s annual budgeting process. periodic review of the plan will be conducted by an ongoing steering committee, quarterly consideration of amendments to the plan will respond to changing conditions in the City of Sun Prairie, and the council will consider more than 100 specific actions listed in the plan to be completed in the coming years.
Among those items are 15 actions: Completion of a downtown plan, completion of an active transportation plan, undertaking and completing a housing study, updating “the city brand”, conducting a multicultural center feasibility study and a downtown public market feasibility study;
Completion of capital improvements including enhanced biking facilities, updating city ordinances, agreeing upon intergovernmental initiatives such as re-routing Highway 19 to Bird Street and implementing express transit service as well as working sessions with Sun Prairie School Board;
Completing program initiatives such as neighborhood associations, creating an affordable housing fund, and creating housing for households at 30 percent of median income.
City of Sun Prairie Community Development Director Scott Kugler reviewed the public input process, keying on three areas of anticipated public complaints: Apartments, sidewalks and affordable housing.
Sidewalk policy, affordable housing, apartments ripped
Residents complained about the city’s sidewalk policy, saying that it disregarded property amenities such as trees and landscaping and was a “one-size-fits-all” approach to the problem.
The 55-minute public hearing featured residents who pointed out the survey’s own results —that 56% of respondents were opposed to sidewalks in eyebrows and cul-de-sacs and that only 50 percent favored the policy as a whole.
Among those who pointed it out was Laura Jennings, who reminded the commission about the results of the survey. But she also thought the outcome of the Comprehensive Plan had already been determined before the hearing.
“I do feel it’s kind of a done deal,” Jennings told the commission. She also said she believed apartment dwellers and many people in the newer parts of the city where sidewalks were constructed as part of their development and not added later answered affirmatively. Those in older parts of Sun Prairie, where sidewalks need to be added with street reconstruction, likely did not, she added.
But both Kugler and Mayor Paul Esser championed the cause of sidewalks. Both said the goal of the sidewalk policy is to establish a network of interconnected pedestrian pathways. Kugler said the if a neighborhood gets to opt out, it will disrupt the network. Esser pointed out if a neighborhood — where streets are reconstructed once every 40 years — is able to opt out, it will have to wait decades before being reconsidered.
“I’m here about sidewalks as well and I’m opposed to sidewalks,” remarked Kim Peterson, who previously voiced her opposition to the city’s existing policy.
Smith’s Crossing resident Sarah Milewski, however, said she was not only in favor of sidewalks, but also thought the meetings were adequately publicized — on the city’s website, local social media pages and in The Star. She also received updates from her District 3 Alder, Maureen Crombie.
“I have a problem with affordable housing,” remarked Bob Host, who said he’s worked very hard to earn what he has and that he does not want to be taxed so that others can receive money from a City Housing Fund, as the plan recommends.
Gaslight Drive resident John Hofer also brought up taxes. He said he is ready to allow the marketplace, not city government, to resolve the affordable housing need. He said government meddling in the affordable housing area allows developers to focus on serving middle and upper class residents who want to move to Sun Prairie.
Besides, Hofer said, in his experience, the jobs come first and the housing occurs somewhere after that —usually an apartment first, followed by a more permanent residence such as a single family home.
Hofer said during the June 26 Steering Committee meeting, it was mentioned that some people are being priced out of their homes.
“I believe she mentioned taxes,” Hofer said, referring to remarks from District 1 Alder Emily Lindsey. If the buyer and seller are agreeing on a price for the home, it only leaves taxes, he added. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but high taxes are an issue.”
The comments from the large audience in attendance at the July 9 meeting did not go unheard.
Commissioner and Sun Prairie School Board member Dave Hoekstra said he thought the city did a good job of soliciting feedback.
“I don’t think they did a good job of listening to the public,” Hoekstra said. As an example, Hoekstra used the apartment survey question. He said there are actions that could have been taken in the plan, such as using ratios of single family to multi-family housing, for example, to control the number of apartment units.
Hoekstra said he thought that was disappointing.
“I think this plan really goes too far” to solve problems that do not need to be solved with taxpayer dollars, Hoekstra said, adding that the city should remove the Housing Fund from the Comprehensive Plan. He said he did not think the city should use tax dollars to do it, and that the market will settle in and there will be affordable housing such as rehabbing older homes to make them more affordable.
Commissioner Kevin Wait said he believed the city council should not have a blank check to construct sidewalks when they were neither wanted nor needed. He received a round of applause from the audience, which resulted in Esser admonishing them.
Wait made the motion to remove the directive that the city sidewalk policy be placed into ordinance form. It passed on a 6-2 vote, with Eicher and Crombie voting no.
Esser said the plan will next move to the Sun Prairie City Council, where it will likely be taken up, but not adopted until a copy edited version with corrected maps can be made available to alders.
That means it could be until the council’s next regular meeting in early August before the plan is adopted unless a special meeting is convened to consider final adoption of the Comprehensive Plan.