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Waukesha Year in Review 2013

Dec. 24, 2013

January

New BID members appointed

After disbanding, a new downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District board was set to meet in early January. New board members were finally appointed after debates between the Common Council and Mayor Jeff Scrima as to who should be appointed to the board. The group was set to revisit its purpose of promoting downtown through marketing and events.

Golden Guernsey closes

Golden Guernsey surprises its employees and the community when it suddenlyclosed Jan. 5. The dairy plant closed months after new owner, Open Gate Capital purchased the plant from Dean Foods. Workers were left without an answer and schools were scrambling to find milk that was supposed to be delivered by Golden Guernsey. The Department of Workforce Development began work to assist the affected employees.

Principal resigns

The Waukesha School District finds a replacement for Principal David Towers after he abruptly resigned citing personal reasons. David LaBorde, who had previously taught at New Berlin West Middle School and High School, was hired as a replacement.

Clark Hotel goes into foreclosure

The bank that financed the two loans for The Clark Hotel in downtown Waukesha files for foreclosure. Scrima and former Mayor Larry Nelson discuss why the renovations to the downtown spot to open the hotel were good, and opine on what could be done next. Scrima said he hoped to have a new business model and a third party owner in the hotel soon.

New guitars on the way

A call for artists is made to apply to adorn the next phase of 10-foot guitars that will be placed throughout the city as part of Waukesha's GuitarTown project.

February

Woodman's opens soon

Woodman's announces it will open its new 240,000-square-foot facility on the former Spancrete property this summer. More than 200 jobs will result from the opening when the Waukesha store will open marking Woodman's 12th store in the state and 15th overall. The store opened in June on the city's northeast side.

Spring election fires up

Election season kicks off with spring primaries in the city. Candidates in several aldermanic districts face off as well as a race for the 98th Assembly District.

No support for BID

After working to re-establish a new board and restart the Waukesha Business Improvement District, the district announces it will disband. The group lost support of a majority of downtown business owners that support its operations through a special tax. Many are unsure how downtown events will fare with the absence of the organization.

Town officials at odds

After making an open records request for emails from Town Chairwoman Angie Van Scyoc which totaled 16,000 pages, Supervisor Everett German refused to look at the documents. German said he wanted to take his own copies home and not review them at Town Hall. The request cost German $4,000 and the town more than $3,000 to retrieve them from the server. The issue stemmed from German's belief that Van Scyoc hid information from the Town Board on issues.

Dunkin' Donuts proposed

Town of Waukesha officials continue to debate a proposal for a Dunkin' Donuts on Sunset Drive. Plan Commission members asked the applicants to update their plan to address concerns regarding increased traffic and a proposed drive through.

March

Airport affected by spending cuts

The Waukesha County Airport is told that its air traffic control towers may be eliminated as part of federal spending cuts. Manager Kurt Stanich said the loss of the towers would be a huge blow to safety at the county airport and six jobs would be eliminated.

Patton pleads for BID

City of Waukesha Alderman Roger Patton pleads with the community to preserve the downtown Business Improvement District. However, 92 property owners petitioned to have the organization terminated. Discussion ensues on how to continue promoting downtown events without the group at the helm.

GuitarTown invites students

GuitarTown continues to gain momentum for its next season of events. The group announced plans to include Waukesha schools. Students from Waukesha West and North high schools, Central and Butler middle schools, Saratoga STEM Academy, La Casa de Esperanza and Carroll University will to help decorate the next round of guitars.

Five Diamonds renamed

Waukesha's Five Diamonds baseball and softball complex was renamed Infinity Fields. The naming rights to the fields were sold to Josh and MJ Sparks who own Infinity Exteriors in Waukesha.

Dunkin' Donuts controversy

The Town of Waukesha approves a Dunkin' Donuts on Sunset Drive after applicants made modifications to the plan. Changes included a different access point. The plan was approved based on confirmation that there were no restrictions to a drive-through.

April

New faces on Town Board

New faces are elected to municipal roles. In the Town of Waukesha John Marek ousts Van Scyoc and Larry Wolf unseated German for a supervisor post. However, in the city incumbents Terry Thieme, Adam Jankowski, Vance Skinner and Patton kept their seats.

BID no more

The downtown Business Improvement District is officially terminated. More than 50 percent of those that represent the district did not remove their names from a petition, allowing the organization to be disbanded.

Fatal shooting in the city

Residents in the neighborhood of North Moreland Boulevard and Summit Avenue are shaken after  was fatally shot in front of her home. Negron lived with Eddie Callaway who was charged in the shooting. Police began the search for Callaway who fled after the shooting.

Dunkin' drive through contested

Dunkin' Donuts is back in town discussions after questions arise whether or not it can have a drive through in the development. A local business owner contacted Waukesha County with questions if the drive through was allowed in zoning for that area.

Alba named new chief

After an extensive search, the Police and Fire Commission names Assistant Fire Chief Jesse Alba as the new fire chief. He replaced Allen LaConte, who retired in 2012.

May

Property values dip

Waukesha residents see an average 3.3-percent decrease in property values after a revaluation. The city assessor said the revaluation was necessary to establish uniformity among city properties.

More murals downtown

Murals are proposed on five downtown buildings as part of the Waukesha GuitarTown project. Murals are proposed at St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Ace Hardware, Bernie's Tap Room, the Waukesha Monument Company and Springs Gallery. More murals throughout downtown were later proposed and painted this summer.

New life at old Kmart

Xperience Fitness signs a letter of intent to open a location inside the former Kmart. The gym would move out of its current spot on West Sunset Drive. The company interested in redeveloping the old Kmart building has plans to also include space for other tenants at the site.

Town not in water quest

Town of Waukesha residents concerned about the town's hesitation to be part of the city's quest for Great Lakes water begin to annex into the city. Some say they don't want to annex, but want to ensure they have access to water in the future.

Lifeway buys Golden Guernsey

Lifeway Foods Inc. of Morton Grove, Ill., buys Golden Guernsey. Lifeway had the winning bid of $7.4 million for the plant that abruptly closed at the start of the year.

June

GuitarTown celebration begins

GuitarTown festivities begin. Artists share their stories behind the designs on the 10-foot and playable guitars, the Waukesha County Museum's Les Paul exhibit is unveiled, murals are underway and the celebration downtown is chock-full of music and more including a visit from the Gibson tour bus.

The Legend buys Merrill Hills

The Legend closes in on an offer to buy Merrill Hills Country Club. The club began to look for a buyer because of financial difficulties. The Legend operates The Legend of Brandybrook in Wales, The Legend at Bergamont in Oregon, Wis., and The Legend at Bristlecone in Hartland.

Water work continues

The City of Waukesha explains its application for Great Lakes water including an agreement with the City of Oak Creek to purchase Lake Michigan water. And the Town of Waukesha rejoins the effort by seeking inclusion in the water service area.

Verdict in shooting

Billy J. Ingram is found guilty of murdering Nayyer Rana, a Waukesha gas station employee who was shot and killed during a botched armed robbery. Evidence including a .40 caliber handgun found in Ingram's apartment linked him to the murder.

Summit now arts magnet

Summit View Elementary has been designated an Integrated Arts magnet school. The new designation does not make it a full charter school, but means that as a magnet school, arts and the creative process will be integrated into every subject. iPads were also introduced at four of the district's schools this fall.

July

Mayoral candidates emerge

Scrima has stayed quiet all year on whether he will seek a second term as mayor in 2014, but other candidates haven't been shy about adding their name to the list. Shawn Reilly, a longtime attorney in downtown, was the first to enter to file a campaign registration statement. He was followed later in the month by Terry Thieme, the Common Council president. They were soon joined by part-time business teacher and company trainer and Mike Volpano, who also filed for the position.

Dunkin' Donuts denied

The saga that became the Dunkin' Donuts development on West Sunset Drive came to a screeching halt in the Town of Waukesha after it was denied a rezone request that would allow it to have a drive-through. The site doesn't allow drive-throughs but representatives sought to have the restrictions removed. The town denied the change and the owners of the site have since gone to the city for annexation. The annexation was recently approved by the city and the site was also changed to commercial. Whether a Dunkin' Donuts comes to that site is to be determined. Along with the Dunkin' Donuts site, the nearby St. Vincent de Paul of Waukesha County also was annexed into the city.

Allegations rock fire department 

A few months after Alba was named fire chief, Scrima filed a statement of charges against him and called for his firing at a news conference at City Hall. This came on the heels of an independent investigation that concluded Alba violated the city's anti-harassment policy by requesting a co-worker to resign from her employment due to his infatuation with and romantic attraction to her. In the complaint, it said Alba, while at the fire station, told the woman, a part-time emergency medical services educator how her being in the building affected him and twice asked her to resign as a friend, not as a subordinate or employee because he needed to focus on the second round of interviews for fire chief. After the investigation was finished in early July, Scrima and City Administrator Ed Henschel asked that Alba resign. Alba wouldn't so Scrima went to the PFC.
 

Walgreens/Aldi approved

Following years of debate, the Walgreens and Aldi stores was approved by the Town of Waukesha Board. But that was far from the end in the controversy surrounding this development as board members disputed over the hours of operation after Marek requested that a Title 4 review take place on the town's decision. Ultimately, though, the town board reaffirmed its decision later in the year that Walgreens can't be a 24-hour operation (6 a.m. to 10 p.m., but with a 24-hour drive-through pharmacy).

Meijer hears opposition

For the second time since the project was first introduced in the spring, Meijer representatives and Plan Commissioners heard from many who were not in favor of the 192,000-square-foot supercenter and gas station at the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and East Sunset Drive. Nevertheless, the Plan Commission unanimously approved updates to the project. The approval allowed it to move to the Common Council for a land use change.

August

Fire at Waukesha North

Just a couple weeks before Waukesha North's new field house wood floor(replacing the 20-year-old synthetic rubber surface) was scheduled to be complete, a fire broke out in a small northwest corner of the field house. Since smoke damage forced cleanup in other parts of the school, it forced staff members to nearby Butler Middle School before the school year started and also the volleyball teams to practice and play matches on the road. The fire department originally estimated the cost to be $300,000 but due to the extensive damage it cost $6.2 million to have the field house restored. The new floor was eventually unveiled in early October during the school's Homecoming pep rally.

Emotional plea

Facing financial uncertainty, Waukesha County Museum Chief Executive Officer/President Kirsten Lee Villegas delivered a lengthy and emotional plea to the Waukesha County Board to continue giving it $300,000. Supervisors, however, questioned whether the county should continue to support the museum since the 10-year agreement (where the county would still support the museum) after it sold the building to the Waukesha County Historical Society that began in early 2003 was up.

Alba on paid leave

Despite allegations that he violated the city's anti-harassment policy and other city and department rules following the conclusion of an independent investigation, Alba continued to serve as the city's fire chief. That is, however, until the PFC met for his first disciplinary hearing Aug. 21 and put Alba on paid administrative leave.

Meijer takes another step

Many events took place this month relating to the Meijer development. But all kept the project moving forward. First, not enough votes were cast in favor of changing a land use plan amendment from residential to commercial. However, Alderman Andy Reiland requested that the item be brought back at the next Common Council meeting. This time enough votes were cast in favor to change the land-use plan for the 31-acre parcel. Like it did throughout the month, the council's decision continued to frustrate many of the neighbors who packed City Hall opposing the development.

Allegations against DPW workers

Three Department of Public Works employees, including a Police and Fire Commissioner was under fire after an investigation revealed that the three former workers misappropriated about $37,600 due to failing to turn over cash or check received from scrap yards. The PFC member, Dan Owens, resigned shortly after from the organization once the allegations became public. Charges were referred to the District Attorney's Office and in October, Owens, Daniel Llanas and Steven Olson were charged in Waukesha County Circuit Court with one count of misdemeanor business theft. Olson, an employee for 15 years, told police in the criminal complaint it was common practice among employees to sell scrap metal for personal gain. The men were released on $1,000 signature bonds and are expected to appear at a hearing Jan. 3, 2014.

September

Meijer moves forward

The Meijer development probably cleared its final hurdle after it rezoned 36 acres to a B-5 Community Business Planned Unit Development from T1-zoning. A three-quarters vote was needed because a protest petition against the rezoning was sent to the city from those living within 100 feet of the site. The meeting included a two-hour public hearing from those opposed it (they have cited, safety, environmental, noise, pollution, decreased home values and that the city is oversaturated with similar-type stores). The development was on a Plan Commission agenda for final approval but it was removed at the last minute for final updates. It hasn't returned to an agenda since but the city should revisit the project in early 2014.

Villegas moves on

After a tumultuous few months where the museum's financial concerns took center stage, Villegas resigned from her post as its CEO/President to become the new state executive officer of the Wisconsin Builders Association. Her resignation came shortly after Scrima called the museum's leadership "sinking" and said that the museum should consolidate into the Waukesha Public Library. Scrima's comments came right before Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas proposed giving the museum half of what it asked for from the county in 2014.

Testimony begins

Alba's first disciplinary hearing with testimonials began at City Hall. The hearing lasted about five hours and included Alba revealing in public that he had an affair with the part-time employee in 2012 who the city says he sexually harassed by asking her to resign. This revelation was not included in the statement of charges that Scrima filed in July. He explained the affair in great detail and said he didn't believe he did anything wrong because he called it "a personal matter." Besides Alba, many other Fire Department employees testified as did the independent investigator. But Alba's attorney, Victor E. Plantinga, could not bring forth the part-time EMS employee to testify. She was reluctant to participate during the early stages of the investigation but had said there was not any sexual involvement between the two.

Emerald ash borer found

City staff knew it would only be a matter of time before the emerald ash borer would surface in Waukesha. The invasive, metallic green beetle was found in a declining ash tree. The Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department said there are treatment options to prolong the lives of these trees, but they are realistic in knowing that the bug will kill a majority of or all of the ash trees.

Town Hall in the city?

Marek wanted city sewer service for Town Hall because of its failing septic system. But what he didn't expect was the city's Department of Public Works staff to recommend that Town Hall be annexed into the city in order to receive this service. However, while the Board of Public Works recommended connecting Town Hall with the city's sewer service, it was against having Town Hall be annexed into the city. The Common Council later agreed, but how the town hall moves forward on its septic tank issue is unknown and continues to be a pressing issue for board members.

October

New application sent

Three years after sending its initial application, the city sent its revised application for Great Lakes water to the Department of Natural Resources. In it, it confirmed that its preferred supplier would be Oak Creek (a change from 2010 where it was Milwaukee) and that its preferred route for returning water after use is through the Root River, a tributary that flows to Lake Michigan (a change from the Underwood Creek in Milwaukee County). Public informational meetings on the updated application were then held in Waukesha, Oak Creek, Racine and Milwaukee in November.

Finley returns to Waukesha

Waukesha County Museum Board Chairman Tom Constable turned to a familiar face in the wake of Villegas resigning. It named former Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley as the interim CEO/President. Finley, who is serving on a voluntary status, returned to Waukesha temporarily after living with his wife in southern California for the last few years. His goals to help the museum financially were to remove the old jail to build a parking lot and to continue to seek more money from the county. Finley and the board also later eliminated an archivist position to save money.

Fire chief saga

Five months after the investigation against Alba began, the Police and Fire Commission voted 3-1 to demote Alba to the rank of firefighter. The one commissioner who voted against demotion wanted Alba fired. The PFC said it found Alba, who didn't believe asking a part-time female employee to resign as a way to get past the affair they had in 2012 was wrong, unfit for a supervisory role. Alba has resumed his role as a firefighter but hasn't stopped fighting as he is appealing the PFC's decision in Waukesha County Circuit Court. That appeal will be heard in early 2014. With the city again without a chief, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Howard was selected by the PFC as the interim fire chief. The investigation cost the city about $70,000.

Lucky No. 7

The Waukesha North Marching Band at Perkins Stadium on the campus of UW-Whitewater. North edged crosstown rival Waukesha West and perennial contender Oak Creek for its seventh straight state Class AAAA high school marching band title.

Schimel announces run

On the steps of the Waukesha County Courthouse, Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel announced that he is running for state attorney general in 2014. Schimel, who has 23 years of experience as a prosecutor in Waukesha County, was the first Republican to enter the race. Incumbent J.B. Van Hollen is not seeking another term.

November

Salary increase controversy

After Scrima vetoed the Common Council's decision it made in October to increase the salaries for the mayoral and aldermanic positions, the council overrides both vetoes during a heated meeting. As a result, the mayor's annual salary is increasing from $79,100 to $83,500 and the aldermen's annual salary from $6,500 to $7,000. The increases, however, will only go into effect during each aldermanic district's next election cycle.

Questions remain for museum

Despite asking for more financial support over the last few months, the Waukesha County Board denied additional money for the museum in 2014. As a result, the museum will receive the $150,000 that was originally proposed by Vrakas. This came after the museum board reaffirmed its decision to remain at its current location in the old courthouse building in downtown amid speculation that it was looking to move closer to I-94. Due to the county not giving an extra $47,000, the challenge grant that it was going to receive from an anonymous donor was not given to the museum. Constable and Finley are now left in an unfavorable spot where they need to raise a significant amount of money in 2014.

Businesses close

One was a staple in the area while another was relatively new but both closed its doors for various reasons this month. Panos Fresh Market in downtown Waukeshaclosed due to a "lack of parking," while Skinner's Maid-Rite diner closed after a little more than a year in the Moreland Commons Plaza. Meanwhile, the Hardees fast-food restaurant has been vacant after it closed a month earlier on Barstow Street. This area also has real estate available with two antique shops continuing to stay vacant.

Open for business

A 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market in the Town of Waukesha opened at Coral Drive off Highway 164. It replaced the Walmart discount store that closed at this site in 2010. Close by, construction for a Culver's restaurant on the Woodman's property began and a Waukesha State Bank was approved by the Common Council to be an additional outlot at the Woodman's site on the city's northeast side.

Budget passes

The City of Waukesha passed a budget with a 2.74-percent tax levy increase from 2012. The 2014 levy for the city is $53 million and that the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $10.19, meaning that a homeowner with an assessed value of $200,000 will see about a $110 increase for the city portion of the tax bill. A main component of the final budget meeting was removing money from the Prairie Home Cemetery as Henschel is looking at getting the cemetery self-sufficient by 2016. The city also approved money to maintain the medians on county highways in the city throughout the year.

December

Election season brewing

It will be a busy election season in the City of Waukesha next spring. But the process began this month as candidates could begin circulating nomination papers for positions. At least one high-profile city position will see a new leader as longtime City Attorney Curt Meitz filed for noncandidacy, while local attorney Brian Running and former Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Rick Congdon put their names in the race.

Rebranding downtown?

The city is looking at rebranding its downtown with a new logo/image to replace its historic springhouse logo. Hiring the marketing firm, Salvage Solutions, was scheduled to be on two Common Council agendas this month but was moved to 2014 as Henschel continues to review the contract priced at $15,000. The rebranding effort, however, has received backlash from the Downtown Property Alliance, a newly-formed group of property owners.

Town resignations

The drama in the Town of Waukesha did not disappear in 2013. It only increased as three resignations came in at the end of the year. Town Clerk/ Treasurer Jamie Salentine recently stepped down to pursue another career opportunity, while Town Attorney Hector de la Mora resigned amid an inability to effectively communicate with Marek. Meanwhile, its auditing firm, Clifton Larson Allen, resigned last month.

Town's budget

The Town of Waukesha passed its budget with a slight increase in the tax levy at three-tenths of a percent. The 2014 levy for the town is $1.648 million and the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value is $1.874. A homeowner with an assessed value of $242,800 (the median in the town) will pay about $455 in taxes in 2014. But the budget discussion was not without disagreements over how much the town should spend on legal fees. It budgeted $90,000 for 2014, despite Marek continuing to voice his displeasure over this issue.

Warren says goodbye

After announcing his resignation in October, longtime School Board President DanWarren led his final School Board meeting last week. He had previously stepped down from the city's water utility as well, a committee he was a part of since 1989. Warren, who is moving to central Florida for retirement, served on the School Board for 21 years.

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