City looks at opening most streets to ATVs/UTVs
The city of Medford moved a step closer to opening most city streets to ATV and UTV traffic.
At Monday’s committee of the whole meeting, aldermen endorsed a plan brought forward by police chief Chad Liske to allow ATV and UTV traffic on all roads with the exception of the industrial parks, the state highways and the Ann’s Way and Grace Way area.
Liske said the intent of avoiding the industrial areas is because of the truck traffic in those places. Ann’s Way and Grace Way he said would not have any access both being dead-end spurs off of Hwy 13. State law does not allow ATV and UTVs on state highways.
Currently, city rules allow residents to go from their homes to the nearest trail, but not to other locations in the city. Liske noted the city has had only one reported incident of a call due to someone not having a license. Liske said he could see no reason not to open the roads for people to use. The proposed change would allow people to ride their ATVs/UTVs to businesses, friends’ homes across town and for recreational activities.
Alderman Greg Knight questioned the need to change the ordinance, noting the city’s rules were mirrored off of other communities that were partly open. He asked how the changes being proposed would compare to other communities.
Liske replied that he had not checked with other municipalities as to how their ordinances were written. However, he noted almost all town roads in the county are open as well as most county highways.
Knight raised concerns about people cruising up and down streets. Medford, like many communities, has rules in place that prohibit cruising in any vehicle. Liske said the cruising has always occurred. Liske noted that when he was in high school teenagers would drive around McDonalds and the County Market parking lot for no apparent reasons. He said, as with any cruising complaints, if law enforcement was contacted they would come out and watch the area and make traffic stops as needed.
When asked by alderman Laura Holmes if people would be getting tickets for violations, Liske responded that it would depend with officers likely to give warnings to try to help educate people about the rules. “A lot of it is ignorance,” Liske said.
“This takes the great big closed sign off the city perimeter,” said alderman Christine Weix speaking in favor of the proposed changes. Weix, who has advocated for more city roads to be open in the past, said currently riders are bypassing the city and its businesses because of the restrictions in place allowing people to leave the city but not enter it. “We have a lot of traffic that goes around us,” Weix said.
Alderman Mike Bub also spoke in favor of the proposed changes noting that it will bring the ordinance into line with what is being accepted already in the city. “We are making a lot of people skirt the law right now,” he said.
In looking at the roads that were closed to traffic, Bub suggested opening Whelen Ave. south of Perkins St. to allow access to the Medford Curling Club, noting it was only a short distance from the corner.
City coordinator Joe Harris said he would not support that because of the truck traffic in the area and the risk for an accident.
Alderman Clem Johnson said he would like to see the industrial park areas opened up to allow people to ride their ATVs/UTVs to work if they wanted to. He said the risk of accidents is no greater than people on bicycles or mopeds who currently are on those streets.
Alderman Dave Brandner noted that while in general people operating UTVs are very respectful of the law, there are more problems with people on fourwheeler ATVs who are doing “donuts” in the roads and horsing around. He said they have seen this by his home, but have never called the police on them.
“I think a lot of problems are going unreported,” Knight said, adding that before he could support changing the rules he would want to see what other communities are doing. “I would want to know if others are making it wide open like this proposal or if we are alone,” he said.
In the end, aldermen voted 7-1 with Knight against, to recommend the action to the full city council meeting next week. The proposed change would only impact which city roads are open leaving in place other restrictions including the prohibition on operating them on city streets between midnight and 6 a.m.
The city of Medford is poised to take a more active role in residential development to address housing shortages in the area specifically for lower-income residents.
Jessica Mudgett of the Taylor County Housing Authority encouraged aldermen to assist by having the city purchase a parcel of land as part of a proposal to develop a 38-unit rental complex with one, two and three bedroom units with garages for people who are making between 30% and 80% of the median income in the area.
Mudgett said there is currently a waiting list of people to access existing apartments for low-income residents and that although these residents have qualified for rental assistance programs which would cover the rent, there are no available apartments that offer affordable rents in that level.
Mudgett is looking to relieve the low-income housing crunch through participation in the State and Federal Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program administered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). Under the competitive HTC grant program, participating developers can receive a 9% tax credit for qualified developments.
Mudgett said the goal is to maximize the number of points the project could receive in order to qualify for the HTC program. Under the proposal, the city would purchase the parcel and donate it to the project. The private developer would incur the cost of building the apartments and pay property taxes on it.
Mudgettt said they are looking at a 10acre parcel on Gibson St. which has been for sale for some time and it is already zoned for multi-family use.
During the more than hour-long discussion at Monday’s meeting, the major concern was not if the city should participate, but if the particular parcel would be the best option due to the presence of wetlands which would potentially reduce the buildable property to under four acres. Concern was also raised if the city should do this on its own or if it should seek partnership with Taylor County to purchase a property and donate it for the project.
Knight spoke in favor of the city moving forward on it, noting that it would allow the development of a currently vacant property and grow the tax base through new construction. The estimate for the project is that it would generate about $34,000 a year in property taxes. “It is a really good deal,” Knight said, expressing concern that involving the county could slow the process down and not meet the deadlines for the September 2021 grant deadlines.
“I view this as a county wide issue,” Bub said suggesting the county should be a partner in it. Bub, as well as Dave Roiger and Tim Hansen also serve on the Taylor County Board.
“From a county perspective, I think it would be a pretty hard sell,” Hansen said, noting that rural supervisors may not be supportive of it.
Mayor Mike Wellner disagreed saying he did not think it should be the city, and the city alone that should bear the cost. The parcel in question has a list price of about $140,000.
Weix said she would hate to see an opportunity like this go away. She said there are multiple questions the city needs to answer including if they support the project, if they are willing to invest in it, and if they believe that particular parcel is the best fit. Wellner said he felt the answer to those questions is yes with some questions about if the parcel is viable for development with the wetlands on it.
Harris expressed concern about the parcel noting that without a wetland delineation study they don’t know what is there for buildable space. Such a study could not be done until spring. He compared it to the development of the First Baptist Church parcel which had been a corn field prior to being developed but which the state said had numerous wetland areas causing headaches for the church in planning their building. He also noted that local developers had expressed concern about an outside developer coming in and if they would be employing locals to build the units. He said others would also be interested in developing if the city were to buy the land for them.
Mudgett replied that she approached Compass Properties of Stevens Point for the project because the owner had previously worked for WHEDA and knew the program well. She said any developer could take part in the HTC program and at this point they are bringing the idea forward.
Johnson said the city “desperately needed” housing and that the only way for the city to grow was to have places for people to live when they moved here. He said businesses are having trouble getting workers because there is no place for people to live when they move here. “We can’t bring people in if we don’t have anyplace for them to stay,” he said.
At the same time, Johnson was hesitant about that particular parcel without having the developer actually walk it to determine if it was cost effective to move forward with it versus another parcel.
The city will take up the issue again at its December 7 committee of the whole meeting.
In other business aldermen:
_ Recommended allowing the police department to purchase body cameras for officers. Liske said he anticipated the use of the cameras will become mandated in the near future. The model he proposed is from the same company that has the squad-car mounted cameras used for traffic stops and will be integrated with that equipment. The cost for the city to purchase seven body cameras, and two docking stations to download the cameras will be about $5,500. Liske said ongoing costs for maintenance and file storage would be $4,812 per year. He said the purchase price could come from the fee the city collects on people registering vehicles at the police department with the ongoing cost able to be absorbed into the existing city budget by watching spending in other areas.
_ Received an update on the purchase of Advanced Disposal. Harris said the garbage trucks will be having the logo and name of the new company GFL Environmental on them.