WHITEWATER — Whitewater officials gathered for a “charrette” — a French word meaning “collaborative design” — Wednesday to confront the related issues of zoning, housing and neighborhoods within the city.
The Whitewater Common Council, Whitewater Planning and Architectural Review Commission and Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA) held the specialized joint session at the Innovation Center. Sixteen people were present; there was some overlap in positions, such as councilperson Lynn Binnie, who also serves on the Plan Commission, and councilperson Stephanie Goettl Vander Pas, who also is a member of the CDA Board.
The two-hour session was facilitated by Mike Slavney of Vanderwalle and Associates, which is the city’s planning consultant.
The session was a result of an issue that came to light over this last summer regarding zoning annexed land into the city and proposed development of townhomes on that land. The issue led to some conflict between the council and the Plan Commission. The conflict raised several related issues, regarding zoning, development, housing and neighborhoods, and interpretations of the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
In September, City Manager Cameron Clapper and CDA Director Dave Carlson called for the plan commission and council, along with the CDA, to hold a charrette on all the issues raised during the summer-long dispute.
On Tuesday, Clapper made some opening remarks to begin the charrette.
He cited the recent council and plan commission dispute, but added that the issues have been haunting the city for much longer than the past few months, citing prior work and efforts by the city that evaluated housing and residential issues in the city.
“The result of all that was the question what should be our backbone or definition of what we truly need as a community, and what should we say to the developers that are in line with that versus those that are not,” Clapper said. “That brings us to tonight and the need to have a discussion. We have had discussions within the council, commission and CDA, but what we want to do tonight is get everybody to have that discussion.”
Slavney also offered remarks at the start of the workshop.
“We have been asked to tap into your individual perspectives and knowledge, and to identify some consensus points of agreement and priority on issues,” he said, adding that Vanderwalle has used sessions similar to Tuesday’s many times in the past.
The council and committee members were divided into mixed five groups so no more than two members of one body was in one group. At each groups’ table, members worked on identifying “key issues, assets and opportunities.” Following that, they discussed prioritizing those issues, and Slavney and his assistants collected and summarized them into five broad categories that captured the essence of each priority.
The next step had the participants vote on those broad categories. In order of rank, “affordable single-family housing” received 40 percent, “housing and neighborhood conditions” received 20 percent, “identifying shared visions and initiatives” received 20 percent, “housing diversity” received 13 percent, and “student housing” received 7 percent.
The participants then reorganized into new brainstorming groups based on how they voted. For example, six people discussed “affordable single-family housing” while three people talked about “housing diversity.” Some additional input from city staff or Vanderwalle staff aided those discussions.
By the end of the evening, the groups had generated their thoughts on the potential manners to resolve those categorical issues and the possible outcomes of those resolutions.
The session concluded by Slavney collecting all of the input generated in order to compile it into a report that will be utilized by the council, plan commission and CDA.
Afterward, Clapper said he thought the charrette’s collaborative design process was a success Tuesday.
“I think that the first step was to get everybody to have a discussion,” he said. “We talked about these issues in each of these committees before, but never, in my perspective, successfully as a group. Being able to have people in here together, with many different opinions and different focuses within the committees they serve on, was a really good thing. I look forward to seeing all the documentation that was made.”
He said the next step is about that documentation.
“Vanderwalle will take all the material tonight and then bring that material back with an analysis or report on what the trends were,” Clapper said. “They will come back and inform the committees of those trends and we’ll move forward with some action.
“These issues are not going away, and we have to move on them. That is the whole point of tonight — that we could find some common threads to pull out and then pursue.”
Clapper added that he expects those reports will be available in January.