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Middleton, Wisconsin Crises: Bird Glass & Other Problems Created by the Left [Up Against the Wall]

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Middleton, Wisconsin

Middleton, Wisconsin has suffered a series of crises in the last couple weeks. First there was the mother that killed her own two children and then herself that the city has had to deal with.

Then there were the two idiots from nearby Waunakee that thought they could allegedly fly 46 pounds (you read that right) of fentanyl (plus 17 lbs of other drugs) into the Middleton airport at night on a small plane, who were caught upon landing by local law enforcement. Wow. What a bust! (Hooray for the K-9 unit.) (By the way, where do you think they allegedly got the fentanyl? Yep, possibly in a border city – probably from an illegal border crossing.)

Then there is the Middleton Beach Road residents who are now attempting a recall of Mayor Emily Kuhn over the mayor’s signature on a proposed zoning change that will allow development of new multi-family housing where the old Edgewood soccer field was located, by the owners of Yahara Materials. The council is the body that makes these decisions, not the mayor individually. The mayor doesn’t normally even get a vote in council meetings, but in this case, she did vote, as the tiebreaker.

This situation is a classic case of NIMBY neighbors pulling up the ladder after they got theirs and not caring about their fellow residents – the people who serve them their $6 lattes and their restaurant food and who deliver their groceries to their luxury homes on the lake.

These ‘regular joes’ need a place to live in Middleton too, and Middleton has a land and housing shortage. I’ll never understand this attitude against quality, market-rate multi-family buildings like that being proposed. 99% of us have lived in apartments at one point in our lives, and we’re not criminals. I admit that the new ‘workforce housing’ apartments being built frequently have a lot of police calls, but that’s because many of the units are being rented to people from Illinois, not local Middleton residents, but the proposal is for market rate apartments, which is not cheap these days.

It’s kind of like a close relative of mine (whose name shall remain undisclosed) that lives in Bozeman, MT. She told me not to develop in Bozeman and that if I did, it would be urban sprawl. I explained that building an apartment building on the very next farm field adjacent to the city boundary with urban services right there is not urban sprawl. That’s logical, planned growth.

But her house (sorry) that is located a couple miles out of town, jumping over many farm fields, is urban sprawl. Not to mention, I asked her where are the workers who serve her coffee, stock the shelves at her organic store, operate the gas station and the downtown retail stores, and run the chair lifts at the local ski resort are going to live? How come they don’t get to live there too? Why should they have to drive an hour or more every day from out of town or live in a trailer park? It’s a classic case of pulling up the ladder after she got there.

But back to Middleton. Another crisis, but of the city’s own making, is the new zoning code, which, while being billed as a ‘simplification,’ is double the number of pages as the old zoning code, and creates dozens of new regulations and burdens on development. So much for the classic liberal misnomer – naming legislation the opposite of what it really does. (But hey, thank you Middleton, because this bill will serve to keep the supply of new housing in the city restricted, and the new zoning code will definitely increase the cost of construction, but that all will be good for developers like me who already own property in the city. Our values will increase and rents will go up, following the increased cost of new construction.) It’s just like when Mayor Dave in Madison passed the illegal inclusionary zoning code that acted like the full employment act for local developers and which even today continues to cause the residual shortage of housing in Madison.)

One particular clause in the new Middleton zoning code is the bird glass regulation. This is where, with zero evidence of birds flying into local buildings, the council decided that saving phantom birds from hitting glass windows of apartment buildings is a higher priority than keeping housing affordable. The bird glass code will be the single most costly new regulation in decades and it will single handedly make apartment housing much more expensive. The cost of bird glass on a 15-story apartment building is over $1 million. Even on your standard, most economical four-story apartment building it will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. (You have to order bird glass from the manufacturer, which makes it a special run, which contains dots on the glass at specific intervals. It’s non-standard and obstructs the view from the windows.)

This means that rents will have to increase a lot. But hey, they don’t care about affordable housing! Phantom birds are more important. Of course, if birds were dying in droves by hitting the glass of our existing buildings, they would be piling up at the base of our buildings! But of course, they’re not. This is all about virtue signaling.

But enough virtue signaling adds up to real money, and real money means higher rents. Developers don’t just write a check out of their own pocket for the costs. They are required to maintain a specific debt coverage ratio on their building loans, usually 1.25, which means that whatever the costs of a building are, the monthly debt service is calculated based upon current interest rates and loan terms, construction costs, etc., and then a 1.25 DCR is applied, and that determines the rent the building must receive to enable it to receive a loan and maintain that loan without being in default.

And that’s where I think virtue signaling by a city – that raises the cost of housing – is stupid and shortsighted. But liberals always put virtue signaling ahead of reality, because they want to be appear to be, well, virtuous. They want to be seen by their friends in their circles as being good liberals, but why can’t we define being a good liberal as keeping the cost of housing down?

Mayor Kuhn tried to get the council to slow down its rush to over-regulate new MF housing with the bird glass, urging them to investigate it first, before they rush to judgment, but they overrode her. Kuhn is a liberal too, but she also knows that keeping housing costs down actually helps the residents most in need of lower rents in her city. While we don’t always agree, I say good for her – for standing up for lower-cost housing.

Likewise, give her credit for ordering an audit of TIF deals, where the city provides TIF for new housing. In recent years under the new planning director, the city has provided stunning amounts of TIF, in particular to two non-professionals who weren’t developers and so far, neither project has worked out the way they promised. (Non-professionals who like to play developer love to promise the world to get approval, but then can’t execute on all those promises since doing so is unrealistic in the first place and would result in financially jeopardizing the project.) TIF is a good tool because the money for it comes from the development itself, not the taxpayers, and if used properly and given to experienced developers who know how to execute because when those non-professionals mess up, they mess up the tax base for everyone as well as the TIF district. So good for her for doing the audit.

In conclusion, the problem with the country today is that, like Middleton, so many of our problems are created by the left. Then those problems create unforeseen other problems, and of course, the answer by the left is always another government program to solve the problems they created, which in turn creates more problems. This is the vicious cycle of the liberal left; they generate more demand for themselves and their ideas by screwing things up in the first place. The cycle never ends, unless it’s just completely cut off.

Wisconsin Right Now is a news organization focused on covering the news from a conservative point of view, in particular on politics and policy issues through analysis and opinions, and is protected by the first amendment of the United States constitution. WRN and the columnist does not make endorsements of candidates or urge a vote for or against any candidate or issue. On October 18 and November 23, 2023 Donald Trump tweeted out on Trump’s Truth Social account T. Wall’s October 6th column on Trump’s property valuations. T. Wall holds a degree from the UW in economics and an M.S. in real estate analysis and valuation and is a real estate developer. Disclaimer: The opinions of the writer are not necessarily those of this publication or the left!

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