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City council president looking closer at Coulee Council on Addictions building

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Vote to be delayed on project zoning over meeting notice error 

Grumblings about Coulee Council on Addictions moving to 9th and Ferry in La Crosse have reached the ear of the city’s council president.

“I would like to make it clear that I’m not speaking on behalf of the council, but as a councilman from District 11, I do have some serious misgivings about that,” council president Martin Gaul said.

He doesn’t appreciate the city recruiting single families to build in the neighborhood around Lincoln Middle School without divulging that a facility like Coulee Council on Addictions (CCA) could be built on a nearly empty block there.

“I think that the expectations these folks had with the investments they’re putting into single-family housing shouldn’t be ignored,” Gaul said.

On the other hand, “that is private property,” said Gaul and the city has to recognize that the owner–Mayo–has a right to use it as such. 

CCA plans to build a $3 million facility on the block next to Lincoln Middle School. The city council would have to approve a zoning change to allow Coulee Council on the site.

That planned rezoning seems a contradiction to Gaul.

“There’s been some major investments in the housing that’s been going in on that particular block,” Gaul said. “And, for us to ignore what the folks are saying there, I think we need to decide how we want to treat these things going forward.”

Gaul does not have a problem with the organization itself. He calls the CCA “an excellent organization that does good work.”

He also noted that current zoning on the site would allow Mayo to build a 20-unit apartment building without any council approval.

A meeting notice mistake means the city council will not be voting on the zoning change for CCA this week as planned but will likely push off action on the issue for a month.

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1 Comment

  1. Nick Passe

    August 8, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Coulee’s presence in the neighborhood and neighbors’ happiness and prosperity are not mutually exclusive; they are mutually reinforcing. Certain neighbors are concerned about crime and people with addictions being a danger to their kids and their property values. I’ll address each in turn.

    Coulee Council on Addictions is an organization which has been helping reduce/suppress crime and other social ills which flow from addictions for 49 years now. We (I have been a board member since 2012) help people who want to be there to get their loved ones help for addictions. The only exceptions to the rule that Coulee only helps people who want to be there are people who come to Coulee for AODA evaluations and some who come for Smart Recovery meetings (a curriculum-based cognitive-based therapy (“CBT”) support group which counts toward treatment programming hours in our treatment courts.) AODA assessments (some voluntary, some court-ordered) and smart recovery programming are available from other providers in the community, so anyone coming to Coulee is there because they choose to be there. When we help people help themselves or their friends, family members or employees recover, less crime is committed, less poor life decisions are made and more people are able to lead healthy, productive lives. Crime, other social ills and people with struggling with addictions are disproportionately concentrated in poorer neighborhoods with cheaper housing. These are the neighborhoods targeted for help by the La Crosse Promise and others seeking to provide social services, including Mayo and Coulee. Coulee’s recovery center will be right across the street from the St. Clare’s Health Mission, immediately next to the community police/social work house and a residential home for women with mental health and sometimes AODA challenges, and Gerard Hall (a group home for young mothers getting help for significant mental health (often AODA) issues.) Coulee looked for about a year for a new home and did not come up with a better location the the Mayo development-designated land immediately south of the community gardens. (Even ignoring Mayo’s incredibly generous terms of its long-term lease to Coulee, it it the best site we could find in a year. When the 25 year + extensions, $1/year terms are considered, the lease is unbeatable.). Coulee being able to do its work on the vacant Mayo development land will ensure the work done to help the neighborhood, city and wider community are given a huge boost (avoiding land acquisition costs and dedicating those savings to a programming endowment) and that the work done will be as effective and efficient as possible (people in recovery can be referred to other services in close proximity so that they are more likely to benefit from these services and improve themselves faster and further than they otherwise would.) Any planner or dispassionate observer would recognize the considerable advantages of locating the Coulee Recovery Center here. Any taxpayer hoping to put a dent in expensive social pathology (crime, addictions, untreated/inadequately mental health and the problems and expenses which flow from them) would want Coulee to be as well-placed and effective/successful as humanly possible. A couple quick stats: we lost 23 lives to overdoses in La Crosse County last year, felony case filings are up ~40% this year mostly due to drugs. Ask any prosecutor or county social worker – we are in a challenging environment and addictions are a significant part of the problem. If neighbors want safety and security in challenged neighborhoods in La Crosse in the next generation, it is going to take a “both/and” partnership with government, development nonprofits and service provider organizations like Mayo and Coulee to achieve the best possible outcomes, not an adversarial, territorial series of NIMBY fights.

    Second, residents are concerned about what Coulee’s presence might do to property values. I have spoken to two TOP highly experienced local (private and public) authorities about what Coulee’s placement might mean to neighbors’ property values in the area. Their opinions were that the new Coulee center would likely result in no value change or a slight increase in property values (respectively.). On the one hand, any development of the Mayo development property (the grass field or the community garden field) would mean more traffic, putting negative pressure on neighboring properties’ values. On the other hand, by placing the Coulee Recovery Center where it is proposed, Coulee minimizes the significant negative property value pressure on the surrounding area which arises from Mayo owning the Eastern ~3/4 of the block as development property. Remember, Mayo bought up the east ~3/4 of the block for future development over maybe 10-20 years. This was part of Mayo Campus Plans filled with the city as far back as 1997 and 2001. The Washburn Neighborhood plan (2002) recognized the institutional development boundaries of the organizations in the neighborhood. Mayo purchased and cleared about 10-12 single family homes from this block for development in accordance with those plans and acquired and kept a few more homes there. The community gardens were and are a placeholder neighborhood beautification project. Mayo never deeded any of the land it acquired to the City or the neighborhood association or any private buyer. Coulee moving in and erecting a $2.0 million attractive facility with limited parking needs and traffic impact is probably about the best possible development for neighbors. It makes the development of the eastern 3/4 of the block with any large multistory building much less likely. Any large building, even only a 2-story structure on 1/2 of the Mayo property, would use up the other half of the Mayo property with a parking structure or lot. That would mean more traffic. The alternative to Coulee is not a city park or single family housing. It is having one of the largest, most desirable development sites in town as a neighbor (and the uncertainty associated with it weighing down property values) or a large building of some kind and a parking lot or structure as your neighbors. The land is zoned public and R-5. It was bought to give Mayo options for the future (like the development property in Onalaska on Sand Lake Road.) To say Coulee would drive down property values in the area is completely ignoring the history of the area and the benefits the Coulee/Mayo collaboration will bring.

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