Waupaca may allow first-story live-work storefronts
By Angie Landsverk
A new district being proposed would allow a first-story live-work style of accommodations in part of Waupaca’s downtown.
The Riverfront District would include the properties on East Fulton, North Main and Water streets that have Cooper Street behind them.
The city’s Plan Commission discussed the ordinance when it met on Sept. 13 and recommended approval of it.
“It encompasses everything we talked about previously,” said Brennan Kane, the city’s community and economic development director.
He said these properties are unique.
They have topographic grade changes toward Rotary Riverivew Park and are close to the Waupaca River.
This live-work style would promote more use of the backs of these buildings, with first-floor living allowed on the side facing Cooper Street.
There will be a public hearing on the Riverfront District Zoning Ordinance on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
It will also go before the common council that evening for a first reading.
The proposed ordinance’s second reading is scheduled to take place during the council’s Tuesday, Oct. 17 meeting.
If approved, retail, commercial, office, professional and residential would be allowed in the district.
Initially, offices and professional offices would have been prohibited.
In explaining the reason why that language was originally included, Kane said the city wants to have a more active downtown.
However, Mayor Brian Smith and Plan Commission members said the city should not prohibit any type of business or opportunity downtown.
The mayor owns three properties in the proposed district.
“Let’s back up and not talk about prohibited uses,” Smith said. “You’re not going to tell me what to do a about a building I’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in.”
He also noted how many properties in the proposed district are already offices.
Plan Commission members agreed with the mayor, and the section of prohibited uses was dropped from the proposal before the commission’s vote.
Other uses, such as artisanal and light manufacturing, would also be allowed in the Riverfront District but would require special use permits.
Kane said the ordinance is broken into two sections.
One is a live-rent scenario on the building’s main level, and the other is a live-work scenario on that level.
Under the ordinance’s live-rent section, the nonresidential unit would have to take up at least 50 percent of the main floor’s square footage.
The main level residential unit would have to be occupied by the building’s owner and could not be rented.
In live-rent scenarios, a minimum of two means of egress would have to be maintained for each unit.
A shared hallway could provide a means of egress separately to the residential and nonresidential units.
Main level live-rent units would be one of several permitted uses under the ordinance.
The other permitted uses in the district would be upper story residential units, retail, restaurants and indoor recreation.
Under the ordinance’s live-work section, the nonresidential unit would have to take up at least 35 percent of the main floor’s square footage.
The main level residential unit would again have to be occupied by the building’s owner and could not be rented.
In this scenario, there would need to be a minimum of two means of egress between the combined nonresidential and residential units.
One means of egress could be through a shared wall between the units.
A maximum of five nonresidential workers, or employees, could occupy the nonresidential unit at any one time.
A special use permit would be needed for a main level live-work unit.
That permit would also be required for artisanal and light industrial/manufacturing uses.
Artisanal uses would be facilities for small-scale craft production, such as metal work, ceramics, food processing, woodworking, glass blowing, jewelry or musical instrument manufacturing.
Light industrial/manufacturing uses would include a small or large alcohol distillery, a winery, a micro-brewery or clothing, textile or apparel manufacturing.
Allowing street-level residences downtown became a topic of discussion in the city earlier this year.
That was after the city’s Community and Economic Development Department received requests from downtown property owners about the possibility of having residential on the first floor.
One request was from a Water Street property owner and the other from a North Main Street property owner.
The requests were to create living spaces in the portions facing Cooper Street.
Under the city’s current ordinance, residential housing must be on the second floor in the city’s Central Business District.
Last May, the common council voted in favor of establishing a group to study the idea of allowing first-floor residential housing downtown.
The proposed ordinance is the result of that study.
Rick and Tammy Wolter own the property at 112 N. Main St.
She is an artist who last spring told the council she wants to have about 750 square feet of retail space on the Main Street level.
The couple wants to create a living space on the back side facing Cooper Street, as well as a studio in the lower level.
They attended last week’s Plan Commission meeting.
He said they are trying to bring something different to Waupaca’s downtown and will now see if they are able to invest in the building and make it work.
There needs to be a discussion about how to provide incentives for business and property owners in this area to invest in the properties so it is a “win-win” for everyone, he said.
He cited the fact the properties are in a floodplain.
Flood insurance is required for those taking out a mortgage on a building in the floodplain.
The mayor has flood insurance on buildings he owns in this area and said the insurance is an additional $300 per month per property.
Smith said he does not know why the floodplain got changed in that area and wants to see if there can be a discussion about it.
Kane said that topic came up as the city works to update Rotary Riverview Park.
The Plan Commission meeting also included a discussion about the Firehouse Apartments and multi-family units on Water Street and how to handle those properties within the proposed Riverfront District.
Justin Berrens, the city’s director of public works, said the Firehouse Apartments were built in the early 1970s.
Kane said he does not know how that property got developed at that time. It is spot zoning.
He will seek clarification on whether multi-family units could be exempted from the district.