NEW INFORMATION: Confluence Referendum Committee to collect signatures

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- The group that has announced its intent to seek a binding referendum on the Confluence Project on the April ballot is about to start gathering signatures.

On Wednesday, Confluence Referendum Committee Chairman Mike Bollinger released a copy of the petition. It calls for an ordinance that would require that "certain building projects constructed with funds of the city or a city entity shall be submitted to referendum prior to construction." The petition goes on to say that before crews start building any project, including a building that's planned for dramatic, musical, or athletic performances, and that taxpayers fund part or all of, the city council would have to put a binding referendum to the voters first. The project would also have to cost $1,000,000 or more, and could include the dismantling of a historic or landmark building.

What's unclear is what effect, if any, this could have on the proposed Confluence Project. The petition does not reference the Confluence Project directly. In an email, committee chairman Mike Bollinger says lawyers have reviewed the petition to make sure it's complete, and that projects "of this type of construction" will require a binding referendum in the future. Bollinger goes on to say that the Eau Claire City Attorney raised several objections to his lawyers, but that his lawyers believe the language on the petition addresses those concerns.

City Attorney Steve Nick says he received an email from the group's lawyer on Tuesday afternoon with a draft of the petition attached. He responded with suggestions and concerns about the language on the petition on Wednesday afternoon. He says the lawyer said he would look into it and try to address Nick's concerns, but the petition that was released Wednesday had the same language as the draft Nick received on Tuesday.

Nick says the Confluence Project could be affected by this proposal if it passes in its current form, and that the petition is certainly targeted at the Confluence Project. He also says this is more than simply a poll on the Confluence Project, calling it a piece of general application local law that would apply to any project or property that falls within its criteria. Nick says he has concerns about the proposal's potential impact beyond the Confluence Project. Local codes and state laws currently say landmark and historic can be razed after certain criteria are met, but it doesn't hinge on a referendum. Nick says current laws try to strike a balance between the rights of the landowner and the public's interest in potentially maintaining historic property. He says the proposal purports to supersede state laws, and that can only be done in certain areas of local concern, while calling preserving historic properties an area of statewide concern. Nick also says he's also concerned that the language on the petition doesn't refer to altering state statute or city code.

Nick says he's willing to provide further feedback on the proposal. The group could choose to adjust its position to one more specific to the Confluence Project. Either way, Nick says his office would have to review the proposal for legality if the group gets the required number of signatures. He says the deadline for the signatures is tied to the date of the election of a potential referendum. Nick believes the group would need to submit the signatures by the end of the year for the city to have enough time to potentially have the referendum question on the April ballot.

Earlier this month, the Eau Claire City Council discussed whether the city should craft a referendum question about the Confluence Project, or wait to see if the committee collects enough signatures to force a question onto the ballot. It decided to postpone action on the issue.

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