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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Marinette Bank Re-Zoning Request Falls Short of Passing

Issue Date: October 4, 2017

The Stephenson National Bank & Trust's (SNBT) petition to have two parcels of land re-zoned on Stephenson Street, Marinette, fell just one vote short of approval, but the issue may not be dead yet.

SNBT had petitioned the City of Marinette to have the parcels at 1842 and 1846 Stephenson St. re-zoned from an R-2 Single and Two Family Residential Zoning District to a B-3 Community Business Zoning District. The bank's plan was to purchase the two properties from the estate of Diane Ewaldt to demolish the houses on the properties and expand their existing parking lot to include an additional 30-35 parking spaces on top of their current 35 parking spaces. In addition, the bank would put up a new drive-up facility and include a green space.

The proposal was previously discussed at the Marinette Plan Commission meeting in September, where the vote on its approval was deadlocked at 2-2, which resulted in a recommendation to the full council to deny the application. However, city attorney Jonathan Sbar noted that all re-zoning petitions are brought before the full council regardless of whether or not a majority of the members of the Plan Commission vote to approve it.

At a public hearing prior to the regular board meeting, a total of 18 speakers appeared on both sides of the issue to offer their support or opposition to the re-zoning request.

Susan Ewaldt, sister-in-law of the late Diane Ewaldt, voiced her support of the bank's plan and stressed the need for solutions to downtown Marinette's parking problem.

"I thought, as a citizen of Marinette for my whole life, that this would be an ideal situation to add parking to an existing place, ease the strain of no parking," Ewaldt said.

SNBT president & CEO Daniel Peterson was among those representing the bank at the meeting, noting that the plan conforms with the City of Marinette's Comprehensive Plan, which includes a map listing the properties as an area for B-3 Community Business Zoning District expansion.

Former Mayor Doug Oitzinger, who was in office and worked on the comprehensive plan when it was initially passed in 2004, disputed whether the properties were supposed to be listed as such on a map and referenced language in the comprehensive plan that places an emphasis on rehabilitating existing residential structures. However, Sbar later clarified that the petition for re-zoning is consistent with the comprehensive plan.

Several residents and business owners, including Marinette Farm & Garden owner Connie Hass and Best Western Riverfront Inn manager K.C. Wilson, voiced their support for the bank's proposal. Meanwhile, several residents living in the neighborhood of the affected area spoke in opposition of the re-zoning request and what they perceived as ill effects it would have on their neighborhood.

This included Jennifer Flatt of 857 Riverside Ave., who argued that there were alternatives to solve the bank's parking problem and said that the positive economic impact of the proposal would be limited since it would not create any additional jobs at the bank.

"The houses are worth more to the tax rolls than a new parking lot would be," Flatt said. "Now is the time to work on [solving the downtown parking issue] as a city, not to pass it along to private businesses to solve in ways that will serve their needs at the expense of an intact residential neighborhood."

When it came time to discuss and vote, Ward 1 Alderperson Ken Keller, Ward 2 Alderperson Jeffrey Skorik, Ward 4 Brian Walters, Ward 6 Alderperson Peter Noppenberg, Ward 7 Alderperson Rick Polzin and Alderperson-at-large Dorothy Kowalski all expressed their support of the re-zoning request. Ward 8 Alderperson Jason Flatt abstained from discussion and voting due to his vested interest in the outcome due to his home being located adjacent to the properties in question. Ward 3 Alderperson John Marx expressed his desire to listen to constituents' concerns. Ward 5 Alderperson Wally Hitt was not in attendance at the meeting.

Sbar noted that because a valid petition had been submitted by neighbors opposing the re-zoning request, three-quarters of the full council (seven of nine) would need to vote in favor of the request for it to pass per city ordinances. With Hitt absent and Flatt abstaining, that meant all seven remaining council members would have to vote in favor of the re-zoning petition for it to pass.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of the re-zoning request, with Marx providing the lone dissenting vote. However, Sbar had outlined the issue a 6-1 vote could provide earlier in the meeting.

According the Sbar, state statutes on re-zoning requests require that three-quarters of the council members voting on the request would need to support it in order for it pass. With Hitt's absence, this would mean only six of the eight council members would need to vote in favor for it to pass. Though Sbar recommended that they follow the local ordinance, he did indicate that Wisconsin's inconsistent history with state law's preemption over municipal ordinances' so-called "home rule" could lead to a legal challenge against the city.

For now, Stephenson National Bank & Trust's re-zoning request has been marked as failed and its plan to expand parking on to the adjacent properties to replace the deteriorating homes currently there has come screeching to a halt.

But if SNBT decides to take legal action, the saga may only be beginning.


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