Capping what officials described as one of the most divisive issues to hit Minocqua in at least a decade, town electors last week rejected a proposal to build a new shelter in Torpy Park.
The vote, 164 to 99, effectively ends further discussion over whether to put a shelter in the lower end of the park, between the historic pavilion and the Minocqua Brewing Company.
The town held a special meeting on Thursday to conduct the vote in the gymnasium of the Minocqua Center. About 300 people attended, including both electors and non-electors. Town Clerk Roben Haggart said 263 ballots were issued to qualified electors.
Since January, the town board had been considering whether to build the shelter, and was partnering with the Minocqua Lions Club, which had offered to pay for half of the project.
Work toward designing and financing the shelter moved along through the winter and spring largely without notice until early May, when 11 trees in the park were marked for removal to make space for the shelter.
Numerous citizens then raised concerns about the trees and the size of the shelter, which was slated to be 56 feet by 96 feet.
The town board subsequently held a special forum about the park, and more than 170 people attended.
In response to the uproar, the town and the Lions Club scaled down the shelter design to 30 by 80 feet. Just one tree would have had to be removed under the revised design.
That tree and four others, which numerous experts have said are in a state of decline and could be dangerous, will still be cut down despite Thursday’s vote. A lawyer for the town’s insurance company advised last month that trees posing a potential hazard must be removed immediately.
The town held the vote because under state law, towns must obtain consent from electors to erect structures.
At the beginning of the meeting, town Chairperson Mark Hartzheim said he was “really excited to see this much interest and concern,” and reviewed the history of the proposed shelter. He said the existing pavilion does not function well as a gathering space, and he noted that the board felt the proposed shelter “would be in the town’s best interest.”
Nine citizens then offered comments before the vote.
Rad Watkins suggested the area where the shelter was slated to be built should remain forested, and that a strategy should be developed for how to use a new parcel of land the town recently purchased adjacent to the upper end of the park.
“I think we need to backup just a little bit and not rush into this,” Watkins said.
Micaela Inman had been opposed to the shelter in its original form, but she supported approval of the revised design, which she said was aligned with the intended use of the park.
“It was very thoughtfully changed,” Inman said.
Bill Ross, a life-long Minocqua resident, also supported the new shelter. He said it would help drive the local economy.
“Whether people like it or not, this is a tourism-driven area,” Ross said. “That’s how we all survive.”
One attendee sought to offer comments but was not allowed to because the discussion period had ended. The attendee, Edith Barakat, said Hartzheim had claimed that all persons would have an opportunity to voice their perspectives on the proposed shelter at the meeting. In an interview, Hartzheim said he had no choice but to end discussion and call the vote after a motion was made and seconded.
Electors voted by paper ballot, which they received upon arriving at the meeting and verifying their residency.
After results of the vote were announced, Hartzheim said he did not anticipate the board would spend additional efforts to build a new shelter in the park.
“All I would say is the people have spoken,” Hartzheim said. “I don’t think it’s much more complex than that.”
Jim Ellis, president of the Minocqua Lions Club, similarly said that the club would not pursue a new shelter.
“On behalf of the Minocqua Lions, we respect the vote of the town of Minocqua,” Ellis said. “We will continue to move forward, and we will continue to serve the community the best way we know possible.”
Also Thursday night, town electors authorized the sale of a portion of Torpy Park to the Minocqua Brewing Company for $10,000. Parts of the brewery are encroaching into the park.
The sale of the property, if approved by brewing company owner Dan White, would rectify the encroachment.
White declined to confirm Thursday whether he would proceed with the sale, but said of the vote: “I’m very happy it went through.”
Jonathan Anderson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.