With a new committee dedicated to attracting young families to Stoughton and the redevelopment authority working toward development of the riverfront site near downtown, some city leaders think the time is right to put renewed focus on the downtown business corridor that has long been the face of the city.
The Common Council heard a presentation from Denise Duranczyk (Dist. 1) at its Nov. 27 meeting about creating a downtown master plan. The likely two-year effort would create a roadmap for future development, roughly from Page Street to the railroad tracks along U.S. Hwy. 51.
Duranczyk and her partner in the effort, Sharon Mason-Boersma, made a similar pitch to the Redevelopment Authority last month, and it supported the idea just as the council did.
“The impetus behind this,” Mason-Boersma said at the RDA meeting, “is my kids and grandkids buying houses in the City of Stoughton. How do I help make sure the city grows in the way I want for them?”
The city’s 2017 comprehensive plan calls for such a document to be created before 2022, with guidelines for the appearance and use of downtown buildings and public spaces.
That plan calls for most downtown buildings to transition from retail or service uses on the ground floors to office to residential on upper floors. A particular focus is to have residential use only on upper floors of buildings.
Duranczyk envisions representatives from council, the RDA, the Planning Commission and citizens and business owners sitting on the committee. It was initially conceived as a subcommittee of the RDA, but city attorney Matt Dregne questioned that arrangement.
The Planning Commission is ultimately responsible for forwarding any master planning documents to the council, according to a legal opinion written by Dregne last month.
Dregne wrote the RDA is not legally able to act in place of the Planning Commission in designing a document that would eventually amend the comprehensive plan. It’s possible, then, that the committee would need to be formed as a subset of that commission, or at the least recommend its findings to that commission.
Duranczyk said the RDA’s goal is “not to compete” with the downtown area, noting the riverfront redevelopment it’s been working on and the downtown are only a couple of blocks apart.
“How do we kind of collaborate, feed off one another, plan so that what’s happening in the downtown kind of supports the riverfront and the riverfront is taken into consideration when we’re looking at what we have to do (in the downtown)?” Duranczyk asked at the November RDA meeting.
Mason-Boersma conducted a survey of downtown business owners and found several who would want to serve on the committee, which Duranczyk said she would be glad to “spearhead.”
Duranczyk said the city could pay for the effort, which would include a consultant to guide the committee, with money from the downtown tax-increment financing district, TID 4, which has $150,000 set aside for planning purposes. The area she suggested would include a couple blocks north and south of Main Street, from Jefferson to Washington Street and might extend a couple blocks east and west beyond Page Street and the railroad tracks. Duranczyk said the eastern side of the area would receive particular attention.
In expressing his support for the idea, alder Matt Bartlett (D-4) said he wondered if the committee could morph into an economic development committee in the future. The city has been operating without an economic development director since the finance department was restructured last year.
Though Mayor Tim Swadley has said hiring an economic development expert is a priority, it’s hard to find the more than $100,000 for the expected salary cost in the city’s tight budget.
The Common Council tabled the issue, and Mayor Swadley said while “we obviously want to move forward, it’s not something that’s time-sensitive.”
Duranczyk agreed the decision doesn’t have to be made “next month,” but said the money in TID 4 would have to be used by March, 2021, giving a roughly two-year window for the project.