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Ashland residents who live around the planned housing and restaurant developments at the former Timeless Timber site are being invited by the city to share their opinions and concerns about the project.
The development at 2200 Lake Shore Drive E. next to the Kwik Trip convenience store will bring a Mexican restaurant to the south side of Highway 2 with 50 units of cottage-style affordable housing behind it. Ashland Director of Planning and Development Megan McBride said the project, which would be build on city-owned land, is still in its early planning stages.
"Over the last couple of months we have advertised for development of the site and we received one proposal each for the commercial and residential pieces. The first step on the projects has been taken at the Plan Commission and the council, to see if they wanted us to look into negotiations with these developers or if we should immediately readvertise them," she said.
Both the council and commission voted unanimously to accept concept proposals by developers Jose Alvarez of Ashland for the restaurant and the Commonwealth Cos. of Fon du Lac for the housing project.
"So now we can get public input and evaluate them a little more closely, to see if they fit the needs of the city and to work out the development details," McBride said.
Neither of the proposals has been finalized, she said, and public input on the projects will begin immediately, with informational packets going out to neighbors last week. The city has posted plans for the projects on its social media pages, with another page available via the city's website at coawi.org.
"This lets anyone in the community and especially those neighbors near the area to take a closer look at the plans and to offer feedback both in terms of the general use of the land, but also getting into the proposed site details so we can be cognizant of those concerns, and we can build that input into any development
negotiations we will do," McBride said.
McBride said about 70 packets were sent to neighbors within 500 feet of the proposed projects. As of this week she had fielded a few questions about the developments.
"I just let people know that those initial meetings with the Plan Commission and the council are not legally binding. We have not actually made those decisions," she said.
The information given neighbors about the restaurant is much the same as was given to the Plan Commission, including the letter sent by Alvarez in which he outlined his plans for the $1.2 million restaurant that would have seating for 80 in the main dining room, 20 more at the bar and a private dining room for more than 24.
The residential development likewise was the same as that given to the city, calling for the construction of 50 cottagestyle rental units, to be offered at sliding scale rents ranging from about $344 a month for a single bedroom unit at the lowest income category, to about $1,021 a month for a three bedroom unit at the highest income category.
"Now that the concept plans have been approved, we are looking for public input on the received proposals as the first step in evaluating if the city will ultimately enter into contract with one or both of the developers for their projects," McBride said.
A big part of that will be input from the public, she said, with feedback being provided to the Plan Commission and the City Council and incorporated into the negotiations for a development agreement.
"The development agreement is what will be used to identify the conditions of transfer of land, the purchase price, and a reversion clause in case the development doesn't move forward," McBride said. "This is an early opportunity to include feedback on the site plan, building design, and other neighborhood compatibility considerations early in the process."
Neighbors will get another chance to weigh in before the city approves a site plan. The projects also require state plan approval before building permits can be issued. The restaurant construction is planned for 2021, while work on the residential project is set for 2022.
Wisconsin election officials are still working to curb the spread of misinformation about last week's election, including new claims about felt tip pens disqualifying ballots and poll workers breaking state laws.
The misinformation was quick to emerge on Election Day and ranged from allegations about unrealistic voter turnout in Wisconsin to claims that more people voted than were eligible to do so in the state.
More rumors have now spread about discrepancies in election night vote totals reported by media, the use of felt tip pens invalidating ballots, absentee ballots being "found" in the middle of the night, and poll workers breaking state laws about absentee ballot requirements and voter rolls.
Meagan Wolfe, head of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said officials are working steadily to share the facts about each allegation and combat the misinformation.
"When issues are reported to our office, we take them very seriously. We look into each allegation and request evidence from parties involved," Wolfe said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "At this time, no evidence has been provided that supports allegations of systemic or widespread election issues."
Here are the latest claims:
False Claim #1: Discrepancies In Vote Totals Reported By Media On Election Night Prove Tampering
Wolfe said her office has been contacted "several times" by people concerned about differences in unofficial vote totals reported by different media organizations on election night.
According to the commission, some have used a screenshot from FOXNews.com to point out vote totals in Rock County flipped between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden on election night.
Eric Trump, the president's son, shared an article about this allegation on Twitter.
Wolfe said the vote flip did happen, but it was temporary and the result of a reporting error by the Associated Press (AP). The AP gathers vote totals from county clerk's websites and distributes them to media partners on election night. A spokesperson for the AP confirmed the error to PolitiFact Wisconsin.
Wolfe said similar concerns have been raised about results temporarily posted by CNN in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
"The news media is doing its best to report accurate results, but sometimes they make minor mistakes," Wolfe said in Tuesday's statement. "These errors have nothing to do with Wisconsin's official results, which are triple checked at the municipal, county and state levels before they are certified."
False Claim #2: Absentee Ballots Were Miscounted, ‘Found,' Or Were Only For 1 Candidate
Wolfe said there have also been allegations that clerks and poll workers "stopped counting, that they mysteriously found absentee ballots in the middle of the night, or that all the votes on absentee ballots were only for one candidate."
Election officials warned ahead of Election Day that because Wisconsin poll workers aren't allowed to begin counting absentee ballots until polls open on Election Day, several communities may be reporting results in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
The late reporting of the absentee votes was not because they were found, but because the time-consuming absentee ballot counting process was finally complete. The absentee ballot totals in the 39 communities that use "central count" locations, including Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Kenosha, could not be reported until all of the tallying at central count was complete.
Wolfe noted some central count municipalities, including Milwaukee and Green Bay, provided live webcams of the absentee tabulation, and that physical locations were all open to the public and the media.
She said representatives of both major political parties were present, as well as independent poll watchers.
The majority of absentee ballots in many communities in Wisconsin and across the county favored Biden because Trump discouraged voting by mail and Democrats urged their supporters to do so.
False Claim #3: Felt Tip Pens Disqualified Ballots
Wolfe said some have contacted the Elections Commission about concerns that ballots marked with felt tip pens would be disqualified.
Though it is a different allegation, some Facebook posts, mostly focused on Arizona voters, have claimed poll workers used felt tip pens to mark some voters' ballots, making them unreadable.
Wolfe said voting machines in Wisconsin are able to read ballots marked with felt tip pens, if that's what a voter used Election Day.
"Voting equipment in Wisconsin is tested at both the local, state, and federal level for all kinds of pens and other marking devices," she said. "While we recommend that voters use the pen or marking device provided at their polling place or as instructed in their absentee ballot, the use of a felttip pen doesn't invalidate a ballot."
False Claim #4: Poll Workers Broke State Law When Adding Address Information To Absentee Ballots
Wolfe said some people have raised concerns about poll workers in Wisconsin contacting voters to add missing address information on absentee ballot envelopes, arguing ballots should be disqualified if a clerk added information to the envelope.
Absentee ballot envelopes in Wisconsin require a witness signature and the address of the witness in order for the ballot to be counted. In some cases, voters failed to include the witness' address.
Some officials contacted voters or cross-referenced state records to confirm the witness' address, then added the information.
Opponents argue only a voter could legally add that information.
Wolfe disputed that, saying the Elections Commission approved guidance in 2016 that allowed municipal clerks to fix missing witness address components based on reliable information.
"The motion to approve the guidance was made by Republican members of the Commission in 2016 and it passed unanimously," Wolfe said. "The guidance has been in effect for 11 statewide elections, including the 2016 presidential and presidential recount, and no one has objected to it until now."
False Claim #5: The Elections Commission Broke State Law By Not Removing People From Voter Rolls
Some, including state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, RNew Berlin, have accused the Elections Commission of "ignoring state law" by not removing "more than 230,000 unverified names on the voter list."
There is dispute about what that state law dictates. A legal battle over the law made its way to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the case in September and still hasn't ruled on what the Elections Commission should do.
Additionally, the number of voters in question declined from roughly 230,000 in 2019 to just about 130,000 as of this spring.
Those roughly 230,000 people were sent a mailer in October 2019, attempting to verify they still live at the address where they are registered to vote. The mailing from the Elections Commission goes to people flagged as potentially having moved in Wisconsin or out of state by the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit, multi-state group that helps member states keep their voter registration lists current. ERIC identifies individuals who may have changed addresses after they file official government paperwork with a new address, like a vehicle registration or change of address form.
After receiving a notification from ERIC, the Elections Commission sends a postcard to the address where the potential mover is registered to vote and asks them to confirm whether they still live there.
Republicans have argued state law dictates people who don't respond to the mailer within 30 days should be removed by the Elections Commission from the state's vote rolls. The Elections Commission disagrees, saying people should be able to stay on the rolls for up to two years.
Since the October 2019 mailing, many people who received it have confirmed they still reside at their address or have registered at a new address in Wisconsin, which disqualifies their previous registration. According to the Elections Commission, there were about 129,000 people who had not done either as of mid-May.
False Claim #6: Madison Allowed Illegal Early Voting
Sanfelippo also alleged "officials in the City of Madison defied state law and a court ruling and began voting weeks ahead of the time allowed by law."
No early voting happened in Madison before Oct. 20, when it was allowed under state law.
Republicans objected to two weekend events in Madison, called "Democracy in the Park," that allowed people to drop off their absentee ballots or get witness signatures on ballots they had already received in the mail. The events were essentially an in-person ballot dropbox, with the addition of providing a witness to sign a voter's absentee ballot envelope, if needed.
No new ballots were distributed at the events, which means they do not qualify as early voting.
COVID-19 cases continued to skyrocket across the Bay Area this week, prompting Northland College to move its classes online with less than four weeks left in the semester.
Ashland County on Monday reported an eye-popping 83 new cases, meaning about 20% of the county's total of 422 cases were reported Monday.
The county also reported one new death, bringing its total to five.
Bayfield County on Monday reported 21 new cases, bringing its total to 432 with three deaths.
And the numbers were just as bad for the rest of the week. By Wednesday, Bayfield County was up to 474 known cases — an increase of 42 in two days —and its COVID acticity level had been raised to "critically high." And Ashland County was trying to monitor more than 400 people with known exposure to the virus.
The Bay Area is of course not alone. Wisconsin continues to set or nearly set daily records for new cases and deaths. In central Wisconsin, Marathon County has recorded 85 deaths, 80% of them in the past month. The death toll has caused the county medical examiner to order a refrigerated truck to use as a temporary morgue should the trend continue, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
Northland president Karl Solibakke said the college had no choice but to shut down classes as numbers on campus surged in recent days.
"Over the past few days, we have had an increase in positive COVID-19 cases on campus, and contact tracing related to these positive cases has led to quarantine numbers that exceed our campus capacity," Solibakke said.
Across the country and in the Northwoods, health officials attribute the climbing numbers primarily to large groups of people at sporting events, family celebrations and other gatherings in which not all participants wear masks or keep their distance from one another.
Solibakke said the college developed a plan with local health officials to monitor cases and move classes online when they climbed.
"Since launching our COVID-19 plan, we have emphasized that, faced with the requirement to revise our in-person instructional delivery, we would not hesitate to do so; accordingly, faculty have had plans in place to make the rapid shift in delivery mode," Solibakke said.
Students who did not test positive for COVID-19 were given the option to remain on campus or to go home. All classes will be available online, with others continuing with a hybrid model to complete the fall semester, the school said.