Mequon Common Council candidates address development, community divide
Election comes at a time when city is at a crossroads
Mequon - District 1 incumbent Dan Abendroth is facing challenger Ron Strzelczyk in the April 2 election, while two newcomers Jeff Hansher and John Leszczynski are vying for the 4th District seat.
Abendroth and Strzelczyk both want to address the community divide they say has fallen on Mequon. Abendroth, who has been an alderman for 27 years and is also running for mayor, said Mequon needs to work toward a consensus as there are two different philosophies dividing the city - one for aggressive, high density development, another for development consistent with the city's past.
Bringing people together and creating a long-term financial plan instead of "fighting among ourselves," Abendroth said, will allow the city to tackle all other issues from funding development to growth policies and incentives.
Strzelczyk, founder of First Priority Printing in Mequon, wants to regenerate a stronger sense of community, saying the city lacks unity.
"Mequon is divided into two groups. One is pro-growth, usually families want things to do in their community, they are tired of spending money outside of their community," he said. "Others want to keep it rural and common ground needs to be established to grow the city in an appropriate way to please the masses."
Growth where appropriate
Strzelczyk also said the long-term strength of the business climate needs to be addressed. In terms of business development, he said inviting locally owned businesses vs. regional or national businesses to appropriate areas of the city is a way to increase the tax base through growth.
"Any community development should be focused on reinvestment in the community - generation of interest and activity within the community, while maintaining public safety," he said.
Strzelczyk would also like to address the issue of declining enrollment in the schools by establishing either a growth or enhancement program to encourage working professional families with children to move to Mequon. First, however, he said there needs to be common ground established as to what residents want to see in their community.
Adding value to the tax base through development is one way to maintain services in the city despite revenue limits set by the state, Abendroth said. He said in 27 years as alderman the city has grown "phenomenally" through development he has supported through a council vote.
"I have supported virtually all growth. Every once in a while there is something that is not right for the city, that doesn't meet our standards and I voted against that," he said. "I want people to know that if they look around the community, virtually everything they see is good for the community and I have supported it because a lot of things I didn't support didn't get passed."
Hansher, an elementary schoolteacher in Wauwatosa, said one of the biggest issues facing Mequon is developing the city in a way that is productive for all residents so it helps the tax base, but keeps the rural feel. He said the city needs development in areas that make sense including the Town Center and north along Cedarburg Road, adding that is prime area for small business that meet the needs of the community.
Leszczynski, a Mequon planning commissioner and owner of Rustic Retreats Log Homes, would like to see the public become more engaged in city policy, while focusing on growing the Town Center, maintaining low taxes, keeping the open spaces and fostering an environment where the schools can continue to thrive.
"I believe (the Town Center) will (grow) if the interested parties are allowed to come in and develop and build in that area," he said.
Being on the Planning Commission for the last two years, Leszczynski said he has seen the need for leadership when it comes to healthy business growth in the city.
"I think we are a little too hard on businesses who want to relocate to Mequon or start a business in Mequon and we need to streamline that process and I'd like to help do that," he said.
One area of concern in District 4, Hansher said, is the zoning for potential affordable housing. He said the reason to build affordable housing needs to be clear and boosting enrollment in the School District is not a valid reason to build especially if current property owners in the area could see a decrease in property value as a result.
"That's making a huge jump to think people with kids will buy and send them to a public school," Hansher said. "I think that's a whole different issue than what's the best development for that area if we want to develop it."
Experience makes strong candidates
As a third-generation entrepreneur in Mequon with students in the School District, Strzelczyk said he can see an issue from many perspectives.
"I have a four- and ten-year-old that are going through a lot of programs and are very active in the community so I see it through a parent's eye, business eye and I have a strong scope of long term Mequon and where it's been and what has guided it," he said.
Abendroth, who is retired from Milwaukee Transport Services, worked for many years in a private management company that managed a government service. His experience involves researching the components that go into delivering a service, and getting a lower cost per unit of service, which would aid the council should they ever be in a position where they need to work with staff to streamline services.
Leszczynski said when looking at growth in the business parks, they need to maintain the current feel of the city.
"We need to sustain all the wonderful things going on in Mequon today, it's a great city to live in and to maintain that and not go backward would be as important as accomplishing some of the other items," he said.
Hansher hopes residents learn the issues and get out and vote, especially as Mequon sits "at a crossroads" in moving forward with development.
"Working with people - kids and adults - one strength I have is listening to people and coming to a consensus about different issues that come up," he said. "Anyone could learn, but how do you treat people, how do you listen to people and do you feel comfortable talking to people and explaining situations? I'm pretty good at that because that's what I do for a living."
Council members earn $1,800 annually and serve three-year terms.
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