New City of Menomonie Mayor Randy Knaack made a surprising decision recently. He elected to invoke his rarely-used veto authority to override the unanimous votes by both the city's Plan Commission and City Council to approve an $18-20 million mixed-use development project proposed for a former grocery store site that has sat vacant for the past seven years.
The 250-unit student housing and retail complex proposed by Eau Claire-based AHMC Asset Management would likely add as much as $350,000 to the city's annual property tax base. Yet, there were plenty of city residents and landlords who opposed the project for both personal and business reasons. On the other hand, many others - including UW-Stout, the Menomonie Main Street Association and the local Chamber of Commerce fully supported the development.
I asked Mayor Knaack why he decided to veto the unanimous votes and he told me that, after digesting the Plan Commission and council decisions, he thought the project was "rushed through" the process.
"I appreciate the work that the members of the Plan Commission and City Council do, but I've talked to so many people who were either for or against the project," said Knaack, who added, "My biggest concern is that when a project comes to town, we need more feedback from the community and not just from special interest groups".
Many of the concerns the mayor raised were planning department issues. Most of his questions revolved around potential future parking problems, the height of the two, four-story buildings, the project's impact on traffic and the amount of green space. All are issues that the Plan Commission dealt with and overwhelmingly approved.
The Menomonie City Council this week voted 10-0 to override the mayor's veto.
I wonder whether the new mayor was just adhering to his campaign promise to listen to all citizens before making important decisions or whether he has already lost faith with some of his colleagues who provide the necessary information to allow the city's Plan Commission and City Council to make sound decisions.
Either way, Mayor Knaack could be a one-term mayor if he doesn't take time to heal the wounds from his first noticeable act while in power. Then again, he could be very well be the politician will the most guts only six months into his newly-elected position. I guess time will tell.