Council grants church zoning change

Decision clears way for Plankview Green purchase
by Jeff Pederson Sheboygan Falls News Editor

The Sheboygan Falls Common Council approved a zoning ordinance change to allow churches in C-2 commercial zoning districts, during a semimonthly meeting Tuesday, July 6, at the City Hall Municipal Building.

During a meeting on June 1, the council had voted to deny a request from Pentecostals of Sheboygan County to amend the city’s C-2 commercial zoning code to include churches.

Pentecostals of Sheboygan County Pastor John Putnam made the request to accommodate the church’s planned move from 621 Broadway St. in downtown Sheboygan Falls to the Plankview Green Retail Center on the north west side of the city, near State 32 and State 23.

The Plan Commission voted to recommend the zoning ordinance change to the Common Council, during its May 25 meeting.

After reviewing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) in a closed-session meeting with City Attorney Mike Bauer Tuesday, June 15, the council reversed its original decision.

The RLUIPA is a federal civil rights act, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000, which protects churches and other religious institutions from discriminatory zoning codes.

Prior to the amendment at Tuesday’s meeting, the city’s zoning code did not allow churches to be located in existing commercial zones.

Three churches in the city are currently located in commercial zones, including the Pentecostals of Sheboygan County building on Broadway Street, which is in a C-1 commercial zoning district.

However, all three had been in their present locations, prior to the implementation of the city’s current zoning code.

While acknowledging the need to follow the provisions outlined in the RLUIPA, several aldermen continued to express their reservations with the change.

Alderman Randy Messner was the most vocal opponent of revising the ordinance.

“Many people have asked me why the council changed its stance on this,” he said. “Basically, this has to be done according to a federal ruling, which essentially says that churches can go anywhere they want to go.

“My opinion has not changed. I don’t believe we should revise our ordinance. It does not make good sense to me to have churches in commercial districts. I can’t support it. I feel like I have a gun to my head.”

Alderman Terry Van Engen also expressed concern.

“I don’t think these are the right circumstances to make a change like this,” he said. “I think we are being premature in doing it. I am voting to approve, but I still have my reservations about it.”

Alderperson Anne Krauter spoke of the future look and direction of Plankview Green.

“I am not totally behind this,” she said. “I would like to know more about what it will actually look like. I think it would be ideal if it could maintain its original look and concept.”

Mayor Randy Meyer also weighed in on Plankview Green.

“If it were up to me, I would be in favor of keeping it as a strictly retail development, similar to how it was originally conceived,” he said. “That retail center was built just five years ago, so the original concept is still pretty fresh in people’s minds. It showed so much promise at the beginning, but unfortunately the idea never really got off the ground.”

During the meeting, Putnamstated that the church’s offer to purchase the Plankview Green property has been accepted.

At the May 25 Plan Commission meeting, Putnam said the church has outgrown its current building and had been in search of a larger location.

He also said that the church has been seeking additional tenants to fill the remaining space in the retail center.

The church must now submit a request for a conditional-use permit, which will be reviewed by the Plan Commission and the Common Council.

In other business, the council earmarked $11,100 toward the purchase of a new alarm siren on Forest Avenue.

City-Clerk Treasurer Joel Tauschek noted the money will most likely come out of the city’s undesignated reserves fund, because it is part of the 2010 budget.

He also mentioned there is a chance the cost could be covered by a FEMA grant that the city received, when a tornado touched down in July 2008.

Due to high prices, the city will continue to investigate alternative methods of installation. The council discussed the possibility of having Sheboygan Falls Utilities workers install the new siren.

The council approved a motion to replace the water utility pump and refurbish the pump’s base at the Fond du Lac Avenue pump stations.

The council approved L&S Electric Inc. to repair the pump and base at a cost of $16,269.

A bid from Todd Walber Construction to replace the pump station door at a cost of $2,038.55 also earned council approval.

The council backed the Sheboygan Falls Kiwanis Club’s plan to install an aluminum can drop-off site on the Department of Public Works property on Hamann Drive.

In Public Safety Committee business, the council endorsed a school/travel request for city firefighters Greg Powers, Happy Arpke, Paul Berceau and Robin McCoy to attend an NFPA Fire Inspector Code Training Session Aug. 17, in Green Bay at a cost of $120.

A travel request from Police Chief Steve Riffel to attend a Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Summer Conference in Wausau was also approved, at a cost of $576.

An operator license application for James B. Schmidtke, as well as operator-license renewals for Amanda E. Jacobs-Haase, Stephanie M. Johnson, Elise N. Lang and Shrestha Sager gained council approval.

The council endorsed a temporary Class B retailer’s license for the Sheboygan Falls Jaycees Falls Fest Saturday, Aug. 21, at River Park.

Resolution No. 4 2010-11, authorizing the city to apply for an urban forestry grant was also approved.

The Finance and Personnel Committee met in closed session to discuss a part-time billing clerk position, the Sheboygan Falls Police Association Local 210 labor contract and salary ordinance amendment.

The next Sheboygan Falls Common Council meeting will be held Tuesday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at the Sheboygan Falls City Hall Municipal Building.

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