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Panels discuss issues that may have significant impact

November 14, 2018

The Watertown Site Plan Review Committee, then the city’s plan commission, dealt with issues Monday that could have significant impact on activities in the city, one near downtown.

During its earlier meeting, the site plan review committee recommended approval of a planned unit development plan for Rock River Gymnastics to move into a building at 426 S. Montgomery St. with the condition it bring the sprinkler system up to code. A fire department connection must also be added.

Rock River Gymnastics is moving to this facility, shared with Building Products Inc., after there were issues with flooding at its original location on Wakoka Street.

Architect Pete Weston explained plans to make alterations to the parking lot and to move the gate where trucks come through farther north. Weston added the truck traffic from Building Products Inc. would not interfere with the gymnastics because both businesses function at different times of the day.

Interim Street Superintendent Randy Franks told Weston and Lori Holland, owner of Rock River Gymnastics, to keep in mind there is a large storm sewer system that runs through the property.

The plan commission discussed Rock River Gymnastics further during its meeting later Monday. The matter will now progress to the Watertown Common Council Nov. 20 for a public hearing.

The site plan review committee also discussed ideas with Gene Schmidt, vice president of Hand of Help Ministries, Monday regarding his proposal to place an overnight warming shelter at 205-207 S. Third St. This was recently the location of Elevation Night Club.

Schmidt wants to have two dorm rooms, one for men and one for women, each with three bunks. It would operate from 6 p.m.-8 a.m. the next day and there would be one male and one female dorm attendant. Men’s and women’s bathrooms, with showers, and a meeting area would be part of the plan. Alcohol, drugs, smoking or weapons would not be allowed in the facility.

Schmidt said there would be a 30-day stay limit and this would be a place to help people get back on their feet.

Assistant Fire Chief Tim Gordon said Schmidt would have to bring the building up to code, because the building will be changing occupancies. He would need to install an automatic sprinkler system, which would be monitored.

Capt. Randy Johnson of the Watertown Police Department said he would be concerned about possible theft and drug use that can occur with homeless people.

Schmidt said he has a zero tolerance for drugs and there would be some sort of security in the building.

“It’s a wonderful thing you’re trying to do, to get people back on their feet,” Johnson said. “But just from my experience, 22 years of doing this, I know there are people out there for some self-induced reasons a lot of times sometimes are difficult to manage, from an outside perspective.”

City Attorney Rose Simon-Silva expressed concern about heroin after referencing a warming shelter in the area at which she used to work.

Schmidt said he sends heroin addicts to programs to get help.

Johnson also asked how Schmidt would accommodate families. Schmidt said he hasn’t come to a conclusion on that issue because he usually doesn’t get families.

No action was taken by the committee because it was a conceptual review. The proposal was then discussed, in considerable depth, at the plan commission meeting.

“I think it is very much needed,” Schmidt had said at the site plan review meeting, and he reiterated this sentiment in talking with the plan commission.

He said he has 35 years of experience in helping people from the street who are in crisis.

Schmidt said the location at which he hopes to create the shelter has a long history of being a nuisance bar.

“I picked this location because it’s next to our church and near our thrift store, and it would stop it from becoming another club,” Schmidt said. “The building layout is good for what we want to do. If it would become another bar, it would be 100 times more destructive than anything we would do. (Our project) is a good thing for our town on more levels than I can explain today and that is why I am suggesting this.”

With Steve Board of the commission expressing concern Schmidt’s proposed use of the building would fall into conflict with city ordinances governing “boarding houses” near downtown, Schmidt responded by saying the location is actually a warming shelter with a 30-day limit for individual use.

Linda Kilps, speaking on behalf of the Watertown Main Street Committee, said the committee wishes to see the warming house project farther from downtown than the proposed South Third Street location.

Ken Berg of the plan commission admitted the issue is a challenging one because it “is not black and white.”

Watertown Zoning Administrator Jacob Maas explained the nuts and bolts of the matter and where it stands at the moment, in terms of it being realized.

“The proposed development is going through the conceptual plan phase of the planned unit development process. Under Section 550-152F, the development is reviewed by both the Site Plan Review Committee and the Plan Commission. Each side shares its thoughts and requirements, but nothing is legally binding,” Maas said. “If the applicant moves forward after the conceptual phase, they typically move on to the PUD-general development plan phase, but in this case, being a pre-existing building, the applicant is asking that this move forward as both a GDP and project implementation plan.

Maas said the PUD-GDP/PIP must follow the procedures of the zoning map amendment process and this includes site plan review. “So this is how I see it playing out,” he told the Daily Times.

-- The plan commission will have its initial review and set the date for a public hearing.

-- On that same day, site plan review will do its review and make known its conditions on the PUD-GDP/PIP. It will be made known to Schmidt at that meeting that the plan commission adopts conditions laid out by the site plan review committee.

-- There would be a public hearing before the common council.

“The plan commission should make sure the conditions laid out by the site plan review committee are implemented,” Maas said. “At this time the plan commission also reviews public hearing comments from the common council. Once all has been reviewed by the plan commission, it will make either a negative or positive recommendation to the common council.”

The PUD-GDP/PIP ordinance would then go before aldermen at the next common council meeting.

“If at the first or second reading the PUD-GDP/PIP is denied, no application which has been denied -- either wholly or in part -- shall be resubmitted for a period of 12 months from the date of said order of denial, except on grounds of new evidence or proof of change of factors found valid by myself,” Maas said.

“I want to fight to see that something good goes in there,” Schmidt said of the controversial South Third Street location. “I don’t think we follow a boarding house (design) at all.”

“Now it’s up to Gene to initiate the next step,” Berg said.

Also Monday, the plan commission approved a conditional use permit for another self-storage facility at W6904 Silver Creek Road for Jeff Schoechert. Joe Coughlin of Badgerland Roofing represented Schoechert at the meeting and said Schoechert has three storage sheds already set at the site and wants to add three more. He said they would be “clones” of the original sheds.

The commission addressed matters including road access, lighting in the units and parking.

The conditional use permit was approved but remains subject to review by the site plan review committee.

Dealing with the Rock River Gymnastics Planned Unit Development General Development Plan and Project Implementation Plan, the plan commission set a public hearing Nov. 20 in front of the common council.

An agenda item related to political signs that would have involved an initial review by the plan commission was tabled.

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