Tensions were high at the Feb. 4 Whitewater Common Council meeting, as both community and council members demanded action be taken on multiple issues.
One of the biggest topics of discussion was stormwater management throughout the city. City studies of the current stormwater piping showed that the current systems are too small to maintain recent rainfalls. As a result, many Whitewater residents and business owners have experienced floods on their properties.
Two Whitewater residents addressed the council, expressing their frustration that the problem had not yet been fixed. Richard James of 224 N. Fremont St. in Whitewater said he first brought the flooding of his property to the attention of the city in 2008, and ever since he has gone back and forth with the city about getting the stormwater pipes fixed.
“Why hasn’t this, in five and a half years, been scoped to find out what the problem is, and fix it,” James said. “If nothing else, do something. At least tell the people what’s going on, because it just gets tiresome, it really does.”
City Manager Cameron Clapper addressed the issue, explaining that there have been events preventing the city from moving forward with fixing the stormwater pipes, one of which was the cold weather preventing the use of a camera in the piping to find the main sources of problems. While he assured the concerned residents the issue was being evaluated, Clapper admitted the process has been taking longer than it should.
“It is being addressed, albeit slowly, and shame on us, perhaps, for not getting to it a little bit faster,” Clapper said. “But it is being worked on and we’ll be letting you know in the near future.”
Chuck Nass, streets, parks and forestry superintendent, presented options to fix the stormwater systems throughout the city to the council. One of the most affected areas is along Woodland Drive in the Buckingham Estates subdivision. Options to fix this area included replacing the current system with varying sizes of piping, allowing for less flooding. Other considerations were whether to have a new system that will last 10 or 100 years.
Nass presented these options and others to the Common Council, who decided to wait until the television of the pipes to make a final decision. For now, the current evaluations and options for fixing the piping are available on the City of Whitewater website, whitewater-wi.gov.
Another hot topic at the Feb. 4 meeting was zoning. The Common Council has been considering a city zoning rewrite since October 2011, and has been unable to hold a public meeting to discuss changes before making any decisions.
Council President Patrick Singer stated the process has been dragged out too long due to the complication of holding public meetings when everyone interested can attend. Alderman Stephanie Abbott agreed, and expressed her concerns to the council that no decisions have been made.
“We owe the public a better discourse than this,” Abbott said. “I think the fact that we haven’t had this public hearing yet is embarrassing, it’s a problem.”
The rewrite is being considered to allow more student housing in the city, due to the steady increase of enrollment at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The current suggested rewrite would allow for more than three unrelated people to live in a residence in an area near campus. This area includes structures on West Whitewater Avenue, Fourth Street, South Janesville Avenue, South Summit Street and West Center Street.
The council has tried to hold public hearings multiple times to discuss the zoning rewrite, but have been unable due to time conflicts from interested individuals. Abbott, who works for DLK Enterprises, the biggest rental property owner in the city, suggested having one joint meeting on Feb. 25 for all the bodies that would be affected by the zoning rewrite: business, industrial and residential.
“There are people waiting to make decisions in their own businesses, in their own lives,” Abbott said. “This can’t go on, we need to solve it. Frankly I think the 25th of February should be a hearing on the entire zoning code, and it should be put up to a vote after that.”
Abbott’s speech ended with applause from the audience.
Other councilmembers disagreed, stating a meeting discussing all three bodies would be too long. After discussing a few dates, the council decided to hold open meetings on Feb. 25 for commercial and industrial property owners and March 10 for residential owners.
Other topics brought up at the council meeting included Whitewater Chief of Police Lisa Otterbacher announcing the success of the K-9 unit fundraising. After a final donation of $12,000, the police department is able to purchase a Labrador retriever and the equipment needed to maintain the K-9 unit, including a special van and safety protection.
Otterbacher said the police department will still accept monetary contributions to sustain the K-9 program, which has been completely funded through donations.