OCONOMOWOC — Alderman Chas Schellpeper casted the lone dissenting votes on two residential and commercial development measures during last week’s Common Council meeting.
The votes were cast against a rezone for the Prairie Creek Ridge subdivision and the downtown Rockwell project.
According to Schellpeper, the Prairie Creek subdivision expansion of about 200 homes could push the city’s public services into a worsened state by adding on to an already stressed Western Lakes Fire District workload.
Coming up in August, residents under WLFD’s fire coverage will be asked to approve an additional $6.3 million for the district’s annual budget. That would nearly double the district’s budget, which is currently $6.8 million. The money would be utilized to address staffing issues at the district.
“Our city services have hit a crisis point,” Schellpeper said in an email to the Enterprise. “Look no further than the approximately $6 million referendum for the WLFD that is going to be on the ballot in August. One of the top reasons WLFD leadership has cited for needing the referendum is a 72% increase in call volume. Why has the call volume increased so dramatically? I have to think that unrelenting population growth in the city of Oconomowoc and surrounding areas has something to do with it.”
Schellpeper said he isn’t opposed to new growth in the city, as it adds to tax levy amounts. But Schellpeper said he is concerned that developers are raking in profits at the expense of taxpayers who will need to foot the bill for the expansion of services like fire protection coverage.
Instead, he suggested that developers should be required to pay additional fees if they wish to continue building out the city’s residential stock. “…I’d like the city to look at innovative ways to levy an additional fee on each new residential unit built in the city — be it a house, condo or apartment,” he said. “Call it a public services impact fee. I voted against the rezoning for Prairie Creek Ridge because I believe our public services have hit a breaking point and approving another 200 houses to be built will send this community over the edge.”
He added, “The time to address this issue is now before our infrastructure, schools and other public services are irreparably damaged and the quality of life we have enjoyed for generations gets thrown to the wayside forever.”
Contrasting Schellpeper’s stance, Alderman Lou Kowieski said adding more homes and incorporating their property tax contributions would achieve the goal of bolstering city services.
“The new houses that are going in will participate in (increasing funding for operational costs),” Kowieski said. “Without those 200 additional houses … the cost-share burden is 200 (properties) less.”
Rockwell’s downtown development project
Schellpeper said he takes issue with the use of $6 million in tax incremental financing to redevelop a site near Fowler Lake on Main Street that was recently designated as blighted by the council. The so-called Rockwell project would see a five-story mixed-use development building at that location.
“$6 million in taxpayer money does not need to be used to prop up a developer who purchased the property knowing full well the issues associated with the building as well as the zoning restrictions that were put in place at the time of purchase,” Schellpeper said in an email.
Another point of contention, according to Schellpeper, is that about 18 feet would be taken out of the adjacent village green to accommodate additional parking spaces. Additionally, Schellpeper said he believes the Rockwell building is too large and is in direct opposition to the overlay plan passed by the city five years ago.
“It’s a complete insult to everyone who put in their time and energy with the goal of preserving our historic downtown and the scenic views and special feeling you get when you are in the downtown,” he said. Kowieski said he’s also heard concerns over the size of the Rockwell building, but that the public services included in the TIF plan — such as expanding the boardwalk, installing public restrooms and having more places to park in downtown — are an overall boon for Oconomowoc.
“Without that TIF … the developer would have exclusive rights to the shoreline that they own,” Kowieski said.