Council reconsiders, approves rezoning
Rezoning five vacant parcels of property along E. Beacon Avenue, from manufacturing to multi-family was approved at a New London City Council meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 13.
The votes come in the wake of some lingering neighborhood opposition after last month’s public hearing on the zoning change.
The rezoning failed in December, due to its lack of passage by a super majority.
Several neighborhood residents spoke against it during the public hearing in December, and they presented a petition opposing the change that would allow 40 cottage style apartments in the multi-family development. When the roll call vote came up, it passed with a 5-4 vote, not enough to reach the super majority required.
The issue could only be brought back to the January council agenda if a member who voted no, wished to reconsider their previous vote.
Early in last week’s meeting, Alderperson Denis Herter made a motion to reconsider previous council action on the E. Beacon Avenue rezoning.
Mary Tate seconded the motion. The motion passed with nine in favor of reconsidering and one abstention (Tom O’Connell).
Alderperson Lori Dean, who also voted no last month, then made a motion to suspend the rules and adopt the rezoning from manufacturing to Residential R-4, in one reading. It passed 9-1 with Alderperson Tom O’ Connell voting no.
Prior to last Tuesday’s meeting Mayor Gary Henke sent a letter to council members asking those who voted no to reconsider their vote.
“I understand that it is difficult to dismiss citizens concerns but I feel that if you think things through you will realize how outlandish their concerns regarding the rezoning are and what a benefit this project will be to the City of New London,” Henke stated in the letter.
In his letter, the mayor addressed the opposition’s argument that the development would lower their property values. “I went through the Outagamie GIS site and found that there are only two homes in the area that are valued at over $100,000 – with most in the $69,000 to $89,000 range,” said Henke.
“Each unit of the proposed ‘cottage’ style home will have a construction cost of over $100,000. Common sense will tell us that this is going to help their property values rather than hurt them. Also consider that having industrial property next door is more of a detriment to property values than having any type of residential zoning,” he said.
Several paragraphs of the letter were devoted to clarifying what the mayor felt was “misinformation spread about the proposed development.”
Definition of low income
“It is not strictly low income housing but low to moderate income housing. A single individual can have an income of up to $32,000 ranging up to a family of four with an income of $48,000 to be considered low or moderate income. They (the owner) screen the residents and typically around 40 percent of persons renting these units are senior citizens. They also hold any units that are open for 30 days and work with county veteran agents to find any veterans that might be interested in living there. The two bedroom units are 1,100 sq. feet in size and the three bedroom units are 1,700 sq. feet in size,” wrote Henke.
He compared the later of the two with his own house, which is 1,850 sq. feet.
Henke said that only 40 percent of the units of the proposed development have to be occupied by income eligible families. The balance of the units can be rented to anyone regardless of income.
Mayor defends moderate income
He also noted that 52.1 percent of the residents of the third district (area of the proposed development) would be eligible to live in these units. Henke used other census figures to make his case to council members in the letter.
“According to the census figures the average income of a senior (over 65) in New London is only $35,000. The average family income for the entire city is $48,000 – we are not a wealthy city,” he stated.
He said that it seemed some of the opposition “didn’t want poor people in their neighborhood.” In fact, I feel that they have really demonized low-income people by charging that they will cause crime, drugs and various other unsocial happenings in the neighborhood. It is disappointing and wrong to see a group of people stereotyped this way,” he wrote.
“We also need to take a look at the economic benefits to the city as a whole. The development that Commonwealth has proposed has an estimated construction value of $4 million. That will increase the amount of taxes collected by at least $33,000 (estimated) per year. The city has also invested $250,000 in an environmental remediation TIFF on our property on the South side and the Simmons clean up cost an additional $278,000. We will be getting a return on this investment although recovering all our cost will probably not happen,” he also wrote.
He then posed the question: “Are we being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money if we don’t take advantage of this proposal?”
Later in the letter, Henke agreed that something could be done to address traffic concerns on E. Beacon Ave. He said that he would direct the Public Works Committee to look at and explore the options for either widening the street or providing for parking without widening most of the street.
“This could be looked at fairly soon and a recommendation and construction could be carried out before, or at the same time that construction of the residential project is being carried out,” Henke wrote.
The mayor concluded his three-page letter by asking the council, “Please, let’s step forward as responsible city council members and support economic development and do what’s best for all citizens, not just a few.”