Getting to know local government Riverfront Advisory Board oversees city leases

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By Molly Moser 

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks, The Press will feature a series of stories highlighting city boards and committees to educate readers about the workings of local government. This week’s article focuses on the Riverfront Advisory Board.

With its miles of riverfront property, the City of Guttenberg has appointed five volunteers to oversee private and commercial leases of riverfront properties and make recommendations regarding those leases to the city council. Members include Dave Tschantz, appointed in 1990; Don Rohner, appointed in 1998; Vern Heck, appointed in 2001; Jean Green, appointed in 2012; and Mary Waterman, appointed in 2017. 

The Riverfront Advisory Board meets annually and recently captured the attention of the city council with recommendations regarding rates for lease permits and several specific leases. In general, riverfront leases are for one year at a time, limited to 10-foot sections with no more than three sections allowed to be leased by a single person; and are billed annually at $8 per linear foot. Lessors are not allowed to maintain a permanent residence on the property, but building of structures is allowed, with permission, south of the lock and dam. 

In order to build docks on the riverfront properties, lessors must file an application for a dock permit with the State Conservation Commission and follow a set of guidelines regarding building materials and size.  

Twenty-nine private and four commercial riverfront properties are currently being rented. The private leases include docks north of the lock and dam and several fishing shanties south of it. Commercial lease holders are The Dam Bar, Winegar Works, Mike Hefel and Landing 615.

“Lots of them are not rented because of accessibility; having to climb up and down the river bank,” said Dave Tschantz, who has served almost three decades on the board and is its most senior member. 

At the December city council meeting, lengthy discussion was held on determining equitable rates for leases that have varying components, such as shoreline footage and/or street access. Business owner Mike Hefel stated his opinion that the Riverfront Advisory Board should meet more than just once a year and should make individualized recommendations based on discussion with leaseholders. Gary Stirn of Winegar Works told the council that the length of a lease is of major concern, since longer leases promote business stability. He also noted improvements his business has made on leased land. 

The council the instructed the city attorney to draw up a 20-year lease for Winegar Works with a periodic five-year review of the rate, with any increase not to exceed the consumer price index. 

Lease holders have no authority to store boats, docks, or other personal property on any land atop the riverbank adjacent to the permit area. This section of the lease came up for debate at the January council meeting, when discussion was held on a large boat, which has been parked in one such area leased by Winegar Works. “A motion was made and approved for an exemption for that boat because it is too big to be taken to his shop, where he’d rather have it,” Tschantz explained. 

Dock fees are due each year by March 1, and if not paid the property will open up for a new lease holder. New lease holders are selected from a lottery of interested people. 

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