Uses for vacant city property discussed
What to do with the vacant city property along the Wolf River was the topic at a recent Economic Development Committee and Planning Commission meeting. The property is located between the Wolf River and W. Wolf River Avenue, next to Saputo Cheese.
In a follow-up interview, City Administrator Kent Hager said the city has owned the property for a number of years after it was donated to the city from Wolf River Lumber Company. At the time the property was donated, the city did not have a designated use for it.
“It had been a manufacturing facility for a long time,” Hager said. “We partnered with Wolf River Lumber to help them build a new plant and they in turn donated this downtown property. We tore everything that was there down.”
Hager said the property has access to water and sewer lines, but the fact water and sewer lines run through the property also limits what can be built on the property. He said a parking lot can be built over the water and sewer lines, but buildings can’t be built over them.
The city had previously requested proposals from more than 100 private development firms, and received only one call back, Hager said.
More recently, a private real estate firm had been looking at potential sites in the area to build low income family housing, Hager said.
“We caught wind of that and suggested they look at our property downtown,” Hager said. “They did and they came up with a preliminary plan to put three, 12-unit multi-family rental houses on that property. Members of the planning commission took a tour and visited an example of what those buildings were [like].”
The proposal was voted down at the August Common Council meeting.
He said the proposal called for garage doors to face the river.
“In general, the group felt that the design that was being proposed wasn’t taking advantage of the riverfront qualities of the property,” Hager said.
This brought the city back to deciding what to do with the property.
At the Economic Development Committee and Planning Commission meeting, Todd Hutchison, a New London native and owner of ABC Development in Milwaukee, was on hand to help guide the committee. Hager said Hutchison is not contracted through the city, just helping the city.
When addressing those in attendance, Hutchison said the property is an important site for the city, and properties like it don’t come along very often. He said the city needs to decide what it wants to put on the property and how to market it.
Hutchison said one of the challenges with the property is how to deal with two fronts. He said looking across the street from the property it faces what is essentially an alley. In this instance, he said it is most important to “establish rules of how the fronts will look.”
Mayor Gary Henke said he wouldn’t recommend any commercial business on the property. He said he’d like to see housing built on the property, and wasn’t opposed to some low income or senior living housing. Later in the meeting, Henke said to get density into the area if it is used for housing, multi-level buildings would have to be planned.
Hutchison said the walkway along the Wolf River would be between the river and any building erected on the property, which would limit the view from any building on the property.
One of Hutchison’s friends is a professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), and Hutchison said he is having his students come up with some designs for the property.
Another problem is even though the real estate market is improving, it is still soft, Hutchison said.
“If it was 10 years ago there would be developers knocking on your doors,” Hutchison said.
The consensus among those in attendance was that there is no hurry to do anything with the property, and the next step would be to hire an urban planner.
Hutchison will provide the city with names of urban planners. The group will also look at the designs from the students of MSOE.