Several community members spoke out Tuesday against two apartment buildings set to be built near River Falls City Hall. The City Council, during its April 9 regular meeting, voted to approve measures that would allow the construction of those two apartment buildings, called "The Depot" and "City Station," to go forward.
The council voted to vacate the right of way in two locations:
• 10 feet of the easternmost part of Clark Street between Pine and Cedar streets
• A 75-foot portion of River Street
The council also approved rezoning the land on Clark and Cedar streets as multifamily residential.
During the public comment section of the April 9 meeting, Elizabeth Bowden, Chelsea Richter, Joe Conrad and Lauren Evans spoke against the buildings, urged the council to vote against rezoning the land the apartments are to be built on and against vacating a portion of the right-of-way in the same area.
Bowden said she felt the area designated for the planned apartment buildings should remain undeveloped, as of yet. She said she'd like to see an "exciting'' and "unforeseen" opportunity come to the location, such as commuter rail, or some sort of public transportation depot.
"I feel like it's preemptive and dismissive of public opinion to have approved developer plans before the public hearing periods," Bowden said. "Through the city's present choices tourism and redevelopment are being decided and directed rather than aided by this proposed development of housing projects."
Chelsea Richter, who also lives near the proposed apartment location, said she felt this decision had already been made before the council vote came up. Richter said she felt there was a lack of public involvement and lack of communication with the public on this project.
Richter said many people use the area on which the apartments are set to be built to access the river, and said the area has been "a social hub."
"It could be this again if kept as a public space," she said.
Richter also said the area is "basically a glorified floodplain" and the apartment complexes could see water troubles. For example, she said an underground parking garage set to be included in the complex, would fill with water.
Richter also said the city had not done enough to share information about the proposed apartment buildings with residents.
Joe Conrad, a Spring Street resident, said he feels this housing project fits into the needs of the city but asked if it belonged right near city hall and the Kinnickinnic River.
He said the proposed buildings will block the view of the river. He also said as far as he could see, a portion of the land the proposed apartments would occupy would be changed from conservancy to residential land use.
According to the agenda packet, a portion of land would be removed from conservancy designation. A portion of land between the apartments and the river would remain conservancy.
Lauren Evans, a UW-River Falls graduate and Navy veteran, said she came back to River Falls due to the natural, agricultural and urban environments that come together, and because of the community.
She asked the council to reconsider allowing The Depot and City Station to be built on Cedar Street, near City Hall.
Council Member Chris Gagne spoke before voting, and said the land in question has been planned to be developed since 2010.
He also said the River Falls Journal has posted information regarding development at that location on its website, as well as in its print edition, and the city has also published this information on its own website and in other publications.
"We are extremely transparent," Gagne said.
He also pointed out that agenda packets are available online for all of the city's public meetings.
Gagne voiced his approval of the project as well.
"I think this is a great use of space," he said.
Council Member Hal Watson said he wanted those who spoke to know they've been heard.
He said me might disagree with them, but that they had an impact on him.
He said he feels the process for developments such as this one have "compressed" timelines, which do not allow for enough public meetings to gather feedback from community members.
"There's just a lot that needs to happen in order to have this kind of open and collaborative process that I think I hear people talking about wanting," he said. He said he's hoping to be able to join the plan commission and bring that up in the future.
Watson said this project will also bring money into the city, and will help forward plans outlined in the Kinni Corridor project.
New police building
The council voted to award a contract for design services to Wold Architects and Engineering to remodel the 2018 Prairie Drive building for use by the River Falls Police Department. The agreement is not to exceed $205,000.
The council authorized city staff to apply for a 2019 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stormwater grant to be used for a study of the Collins Addition stormwater outfall, near 728 N. Pearl St. This serves about a 90-acre drainage area, which is in need of repair. Senior Civil Engineer Crystal Raleigh said the city could fix the outfall, but the problem could happen again. The study would allow the city to find the best possible solution.
The city approved a five-year extension to the Highview Meadows fourth addition preliminary plat. The city had approved the original developer's agreement for the Highview Meadows subdivision in 2003. The preliminary plat was approved in 2004. Since then, four additions have been platted and built. The developer's agreement did allow for extensions to the preliminary plat, with approval by the council. The council granted Highview Meadows a five-year extension in 2017, and another in 2014. The last expired in February.