A full agenda and a packed council chambers greeted the Merrill Common Council Tuesday evening as several key items were up for consideration, including final approval of redevelopment of the former Fox Point Sportswear property at 1905 E. 14th St. (CTH G) and a proposed Conditional Use Permit for a counseling office to be established at 607 Cedar St.
Following nearly an hour of public comment, consisting primarily of area residents of 607 Cedar St. speaking against the proposal, the resolution passed 5-2.
The proposal came before a public hearing last Tuesday by the City Plan Commission, during which several neighbors and area residents opposed the measure. As part of another hour of public comment, speakers cited concerns of clients who would attend services offered by the office, including AODA services, as well as those for traumatized children and elderly. Other concerns cited were that of possible declining property values and loss of the neighborhood’s historical integrity.
The commission ultimately voted 3-1 in favor of recommending the proposal to proceed for council approval.
Tuesday evening, many of the same speakers arrived once again to oppose the measure. Concerns focused on upholding the historical integrity of the area.
During council discussion, 1st District Alderman Paul Russell spoke in favor of his constituents, many of whom chose to speak during public comment. The property at 607 Cedar St. also lies within Russell’s aldermanic district.
“I’m big on history,” he stated. “History matters to me. Lately we have been doing more demolishing than preserving. I think we need to start doing more preserving. I’m in a no-win situation here tonight as many of you are my constituents. I don’t think the issue is about selling (Gene and Karleen) Bebel’s home or this business request for a conditional permit to offer counseling services.
“My issue is this list of 26 contributing homes in this historical district, to change to non-contributing homes. I’ve spent a better part of my life protecting democracy, and what I have seen tonight is one of the finest examples of democracy I have seen in the last six months. On that note I will support my constituents tonight.”
The measure ultimately passed the council 5-2, Russell and 6th District alderwoman Mary Ball opposing.
The topic of the Fox Point property redevelopment also drew a response during public comment on Tuesday.
Amanda Kostman spoke in favor of a Redevelopment Authority (RDA) recommendation to approve a proposal from Madison-based Horizon Development and the Merrill Area Housing Authority (MAHA).
As part of her statement, Kostman cited the development being conducive to job growth in the city, the proposal being the option of the lowest cost as well as the proposal addressing needs cited in the city’s recently finalized Comprehensive Plan.
Mary Rajek of Madison-based Redevelopment Resources also addressed the council regarding the Horizon/MAHA proposal.
According to Rajek, the rent rate for tenants of the proposal would be based on the median household income of the city which is approximately $50,000. Rajek indicated a range of incomes which would qualify for tenancy.
“Rates would be aligned with most manufacturing jobs listed in the city as well as starting salaries for K-12 teachers, based on currently available information and number of dependents within each household,” she added.
During discussion, 2nd District Alderman Pete Lokemoen spoke in opposition to the Horizon/MAHA proposal and in favor of another proposal submitted by Mosinee-based S.C Swiderski.
“When I look at Tax Increment to be received over the next 20 years, we would receive more from the Swiderski development over the Horizon development,” he stated. “I like the idea of private investment putting their money out there so I’m in favor of the Swiderski development.”
As Lokemoen alluded to, the Swiderski proposal was projected to generate $2,233,418 in tax increment over the lifespan of TID No. 10, more than double the tax increment projected for the Horizon project.
The Swiderski proposal further called for a four-building, 56-unit apartment complex. Two buildings would house 12 units while the remaining two buildings would house 16 units. Both buildings would feature 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments, with a market value rent range of $720-995/monthly. In their proposal, Swiderski noted the cost of the development to be in the range of $4 million.
Swiderski’s proposal included a request for a $250,000 development incentive from the city, along with receiving the property at no cost. The Horizon/MAHA proposal did not request any development incentive, only the property at no cost.
Since the property is located in the city’s TID No. 10, taxes paid on the new development would go into the TID fund to pay for future infrastructure improvements.
The Horizon/MAHA proposal is a 60-unit development, managed locally by MAHA and consisting of “mixed income” based rent with 51 units rented on an “affordable housing” basis and nine units rented at market rate. The development would feature townhome-style units.
Twenty-seven units would have attached garages constructed beneath the living units.
Horizon/MAHA units would also consist of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom options.
Council members expressed concern Tuesday night with the remaining 33 units not having garage space.
According to City Administrator Dave Johnson, the city will strive to assure all units have garages as part of the development agreement.
The proposal would come with a price tag of $9.8 million, $6.8 million of which being contingent upon approval of Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) tax credits. An $850,000 affordable housing grant would also be included in the financing of the project.
Due to the Merrill Housing Authority being a tax exempt entity, they would make Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payments to the city, expected to total $1,115,198 over the life of the TID.
Lokemoen also cited concern of the development’s impact on the city’s current housing stock.
“Another issue I have with building apartments is we will not draw people to town to live in these apartments. I fear people will be leaving current units to live in these new units, which would lead to more properties being taken down,” he said.
Ball also opposed the Horizon/MAHA proposal, citing her desire for the city to “think outside the box” and seek local partnerships for local development.
Ball emphasized her feelings with a quote from George Bernard Shaw; “A government who borrows from Peter to pay Paul, can always depend on the support of Paul.”
The Horizon/MAHA proposal ultimately garnered the council’s nod by 4-2 vote. 1st District Alderman Paul Russell abstained while Ball and Lokemoen stood opposed.
Following an amendment by Lokemoen to add Mayor Bill Bialecki as a voting member in place of city administrator Dave Johnson, the formation of a Merrill Festival Grounds Committee was finalized Tuesday evening. In addition, 8th District Alderman Tim Meehean and Russell were appointed to the committee by Bialecki, as well as 7th District alderman Rob Norton as chairman.
All three aldermen would serve two year terms, contrary to 3-year terms as listed on the agenda. City Attorney Tom Hayden apologized to the council for the misunderstanding.
The committee will now consist of three city of Merrill Common Council members, Mayor Bialecki, a Rodeo Association representative, a Fair Association representative, and a food vendor representative.
According to the proposed ordinance, the Festival Grounds Committee will be the city’s governmental entity to manage the Merrill Festival Grounds. The purpose of the Committee is to oversee the marketing, development, and maintenance of the Festival Grounds, and increase its usage.
A proposed amendment to the standing off-street parking ordinance was offered for its second reading Tuesday evening, but instead was sent back to the Board of Public Works on the heels of a motion by Ball.
The amendment was first raised during last month’s meeting and sought to bar parking on any unimproved yard area, which is adjacent to a public street. However, parking would be allowed on any improved yard area(s), with “improved” being defined as “areas covered with rotten granite, asphalt, cement or other similar material approved by the building inspector. Parking complaints would be initiated by a written nuisance complaint received from adjacent property owners(s), district alderperson(s), and/or the Building, Zoning and Property Inspector.”
The amendment was met by immediate skepticism from council members, as well as Building Inspector Darin Pagel and City Attorney Tom Hayden.
Hayden cautioned against the amendment, referring to it as “prosecutorial quicksand.”
Tuesday’s vote passed 4-3; Russell, Ball, Meehean and 4th District Alderwoman Kandy Peterson voting in favor.
In other matters Tuesday, the council unanimously approved another RDA recommendation to approve a $37,500 Environmental and Demolition Loan for 1003 and 1005 S. Center Ave. (formerly Club Modern) secured by mortgage from owners Stephen and Linda Blake. The action signifies the first such TIF loan, since the environmental and demolition loan program was adopted by the city in July.
The council also stamped the sale of nine acres of property the city owns at 300 S. Alexander St. to C&D Excavating, LLC and DC Disposal for $10,000.
The city put out a request for proposals on that property in August and only received the single, joint response from C&D Excavating and DC Disposal.
According to City Administrator David Johnson, the city originally purchased the property for use by the street department for a compost pile, wood lot, recycle storage, and snow dump. The city has twice attempted to sell a portion of the property over the past four years, with no takers.