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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Committee Recommends Keep Chicago Court Name

Issue Date: November 29, 2017

After considerable discussion and several expressions of regret, the two members of Peshtigo City Council's Streets and Drainage Committee present for the meeting on Monday, Nov. 28 agreed to recommend that the name of Chicago Court remain unchanged.

Main reason was the difficulty a street name change would cause for the approximately 50 individuals who would need to change all their personal address information, driver licenses, credit cards. there are three housing units located on Chicago Court, in addition to two private residences.

Present for the meeting were Mayor Cathi Malke, City Engineer George Cowell, Clerk/Treasurer Vicki Koronkiewicz, Chicago Court residents Monica and Stephen Carter, Debbie Techmeier, manager of the Peshtigo Housing Authority's elderly housing unit on Chicago Court, plus committee members Mike Behnke and Brigitte Schmidt. Alderman Debbie Sievert was absent. Jann (Sharpe) Rettke, who originally made the request to City Council, was not present.

At its October 3 meeting City Council had heard a request from Rettke to have the name of Chicago Court changed to honor her father, the late Mel Sharpe, a long-time city official who designed the street and supervised its construction while he was serving as Director of Public Works, and the land on which it is built was formerly owned by Sharpe's grandfather, Gustav Feske.

Malke at that time referred the request to the Streets and Drainage Committee. Chicago Court is a short street that runs northwest between the Edgewood Motel and Brown's Corner, from Business Hwy. 41 (French Street) to Oconto Ave. (County B). The request went to the Council on Oct. 3, and Carter sent an e-mail to Malke two days later, asking that the street name not be changed.

He said after reading about the name change request, his brother, who lives in Chicago, sent him an e-mail stating that changing the name would be a mistake. "Chicago has a street named Peshtigo Court, which is within walking distance of Navy Pier and we have Chicago Court," Carter had written. "Peshtigo Lumber Company helped build Chicago to make it a great city. I have walked on that street in Chicago. We have ties to Chicago and they have ties to us. Isn't there another way to honor Mel Sharpe? Please reconsider the name change."

At Monday's committee meeting Carter pointed out that Peshtigo and Chicago also have a connection in that the Peshtigo Fire and the Chicago Fire happened on the same day in 1871, and repeated, "I think it's important to keep the historical connection."

Techmeier said elderly tenants in all 40 of the Housing Authority apartments that she manages would need to change addresses on all their legal papers, Social Security documents, IDs, driver licenses, credit cards and more. She said her tenants have problems coping with even small changes, and for her and for them, the paperwork involved in getting the address changes through the federal bureaucracy "would be a nightmare."

Carter pointed out there are also two other apartment buildings on Chicago Court, each with eight apartments, as well as two private homes, and these people also would need to have address changes if the street name were changed.

"I understand wanting to honor Mel Sharpe," Monica Carter commented, "but maybe there is another way. Maybe when a new street comes up it could be named after him." She also suggested a perhaps a sign could be posted identifying Sharpe as the person who designed the street and had it constructed.

Schmidt wondered what a sign would cost, since Jann Sharpe told them the family has money they want used to honor her father.

Cowell felt a sign would cost about $30, but that would not help the people whose addresses would be affected.

Behnke suggested, "as much as Mel loved to go fishing," that they use the available funds for some sort of memorial to him near the fish viewing platform that is to be built next year, or some other memorial near the fishing piers.

A bit later in the discussion, Behnke said this was a very difficult decision for him, since he knew Sharpe well, having served with him for many years on County Board, where they were seated near each. They frequently attended meetings together, and he had been with the Sharpe family often through Sharpe's final illness.

However, he said some other type of recognition might be much more feasible than disrupting a whole community of people. He said also, if they approve this street name change, they need to consider others who might want a street named for a family member, and how they would deal with those requests.

Malke agreed with Behnke. "It took a lot of great people to make Peshtigo into the great city that it is today," she declared. She said certainly if one is so honored there would be others who deserve it. and wondered how they could choose. She suggested the family should find some other way to honor Sharpe, and suggested they will be soon be selling bricks for the walkway to the fish viewing platform, and that would be a good memorial.

Behnke commented anyone who has ever lost a purse or a wallet knows how difficult it can be to get everything changed.

Schmidt agreed that rather than disrupt everything and create stressful situations for everyone, they should find some other way to honor Sharpe.

Behnke moved to send the issue back to Council with a recommendation to keep the Chicago Court name unchanged, but thank the Sharpe family for their thoughtfulness. "This is very difficult for me," Behnke said, again referencing his friendship with Sharpe and admiration for him.

"I liked him (Sharpe) a lot," Monica Carter agreed. "This has nothing to do with him personally."

Behnke expressed hope they can find a better way to honor him.

Stephen Carter asked if the city could send a letter to the Sharpe family explaining why the request was refused, so there are no hard feelings.

In the only other actual business of the day, the committee approved a change order for the 2017 street resurfacing project that Cowell explained was a housekeeping action that actually resulted in an overall reduction in cost.

On an entirely different issue connected with Chicago Court, Monica Carter commented many elderly persons on scooters travel along that street, in addition to people pushing strollers, kids riding bicycles, and more. There are no sidewalks, and no safe way for them to cross French Street. especially by the Edgewood, where visibility is limited. She suggested maybe a sidewalk, or at least a painted crosswalk at the apex of the corner, where walkers and scooter riders can see and be seen. Techmeier agreed at least a white line showing where they should go would be good.

Cowell noted that there are financial implications to whatever they do. He agreed that white lines do help, but they have to be maintained, and are not meant to replace sidewalks. However he agreed perhaps crosswalk lines on the west side of the intersection with French Street would help. There are also no sidewalks on French Street from lake Street to Brown's Corner.

Schmidt said the next committee agenda will include discussion on that, plus a safe pedestrian area on Chicago Court. It was later noted that a crosswalk for Aacer Flooring employees will also be on the next agenda.

Malke said the sidewalk and cross walk areas may soon be taken care of. She said Bay lakes Regional Planning has applied for a "Safe Routes to School" planning grant that will include all of Marinette County and make the city eligible for 20/80 grant funds in the next grant cycle three years from now. She said as part of that effort she will need to appoint a sidewalk committee, and asked Monica Carter to serve on it. Carter agreed. She suggested it would e great also to have a walking loop all around the city. The committee and that idea also will be on the next committee agenda.


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