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Committee discusses changes to Wauwatosa's city processes

Streamlining development approvals would be the goal

July 31, 2013

What does and should the Plan Commission do? What's the role of the Community Development Authority? How about the Community Development Committee? The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation?

In a wide-ranging discussion Tuesday night, the Community Development Committee took up matters of city process, and considered how it might streamline and better define duties among the many city bodies that deal with economic development.

In a city with "a structural deficit," economic development — increasing the tax base — is the revenue solution of choice, said Robert Simi, who works in development and chairs the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee. It is far more savory than increasing taxes or making drastic reductions.

But the city needs a better focused effort to "create demand for our municipality," Simi said.

Commissions, committees

The overlapping roles of the Plan Commission and the Community Development Committee were a large part of the discussion. Developers with a proposal make a presentation to the Plan Commission, and make the same presentation — sometimes the very next night — to the CDC. And, sometimes a proposal that the Plan Commission dislikes is accepted by the CDC.

A gas station proposal for North Avenue and 106th Street is one example. The Plan Commission reaction so discouraged owner Ajit Walia that he didn't pursue a hearing in front of the committee until he was encouraged to do so by an alderman. His presentation was virtually the same, he added some community outreach, and construction is under way.

Among Simi's five recommendations for improving the development process is eliminating a review of Plan Commission items by the committee. He pointed out that this is a common practice in municipalities around the state. But it met resistance Tuesday night.

The Plan Commission is made up of residents, and just one council liaison, Kathleen Causier. For Alderman James Moldenhauer, removing the committee review, and having an unelected body making decisions that the council is ultimately responsible for, was a problem.

"We get the calls, we have accountability," he said.

Finding a way to reduce redundancy while retaining accountability was a theme that arose several times.

What about the CDA?

Funding the Community Development Authority was another recommendation.

The CDA's lack of funding tied its hands in responding to a development proposal for a parcel next to Fire Station No. 1 in the Village. Closing a $1.4 million financing gap with tax-incremental financing was a matter that the council would've had to approve, and the reaction among aldermen was discouraging. The developer "suspended" the proposal, and although it may return, the episode revealed the essential dependence of what it supposed to be a semi-autonomous body.

Moldenhauer said he could detect no "big plan" for the CDA. The kind of projects it takes on need to be better defined.

An hour and a half of vigorous discussion left the committee members ready for more — more discussion, that is. Alderman Jeff Roznowski, who chairs the Community Development Committee, asked Simi to gather information on "best practices" from other communities, and assigned committee members summer homework, suggested by a letter to members by Alderman Craig Wilson.

They should ask themselves: what is the mission of this committee?

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