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New London debate: keep or sell

Committees torn over city garage

By Scott Bellile

New London Mayor Gary Henke said he’s had it with discussion amounting to no action.

He demands a committee recommendation next week on whether to keep or sell New London’s city-owned garage.

Members of the New London Board of Public Works and New London Parks and Recreation Committee disagree on whether to keep the riverfront property in the public trust or sell it to a private developer.

“Sometime the crap has got to hit the fan. You people have to make a decision as to what you’re going to do,” Henke told the two committees at a June 6 joint meeting where they tabled a vote on the matter.

Both committees will resume discussions at a public joint meeting at city hall Tuesday, July 5, at 4:30 p.m. If a recommendation is made, it will go before the city council as early as July 12 for a vote.

If the committees and city council vote to retain ownership, the city would likely demolish the garage. The lower of two demolition estimates the city received last fall was $40,320.

Options if the city retains ownership include planting grass and trees to extend Riverside Park and/or creating another parking lot for boaters who use the Wolf River. Henke said at a June 6 joint meeting these are his preferred options.

“As New London grows and people are getting more and more into recreation, boating, fishing, you name it … I think that’s too valuable of property to get rid of,” Henke said.

New London Parks and Recreation Director Chad Hoerth also recommended demolishing the 17,000-square-foot garage. He suggested it be held for future private residential development but serve as public parking in the meantime.

If the city council votes to sell the property, ideas discussed include razing the garage and building duplexes or converting the garage into storage units. The building is valued at around $130,000. It would earn the city around $1,000 in annual property taxes under private ownership.

Chad Karpf, owner of King Storage north of New London, told the committees he’d buy the 20-stall garage and repurpose it as a storage facility. Karpf said a storage unit would be more suitable for the area than housing because he doubted people would want to live by the school bus garage or wastewater treatment plant.

Karpf said selling to him would save the city demolition expenses. He said his plan would generate more tax revenue for the city than a publicly owned parking lot. He offered to let the city use the garage’s current parking lot for special events.

First District Alderman John Faucher told Karpf he respects his business, but he’s concerned the city couldn’t gain back the valuable riverfront land once it’s sold. Faucher recommended it become a public parking lot for boats and/or a snowmobile access because he said there’s a demand for both.

Henke expressed similar concerns. He also said the tax revenue for storage sheds would be insignificant compared to four duplexes, which he estimated could generate $8,000 annually.

“Very frankly I think storage facilities belong outside of town where we’re not seeing them all the time,” Henke said. “And what kind of impression are we leaving by leaving that monolithic building along the river? … I’ve talked to the neighbors that live across the river down there. They’re going, ‘Tear it down. Get rid of it. It’s ugly and there’s nothing you’re going to do about it to make it beautiful.’”

First District Alderman Robert Besaw said the city has a poor track record of selling its land. He questioned what good it would do to demolish the garage to plant grass or build a parking lot considering Karpf’s offering to buy it.

“We’ve still got all that property that we’ve got out there that’s empty, that we’ve been talking about people are just jumping to get into, and it’s still empty,” Besaw said. “So I’m not in favor of tearing the buildings down unless you’ve got a plan to do something with them, and we don’t really have a plan for that.”

Of note, a June 2002 notice issued to the city by the Wisconsin Department of Commerce states petroleum discharge has occurred on the property, so contaminated soil may remain on the property. Hoerth stated this occurred when three fuel tanks were removed in 1990.

The notice states a developer would need to clean the property and prove there’s no longer contamination before constructing a well there, if one were part of the developer’s plans.

The city garage is located on West Wolf River Avenue across the road from the School District of New London’s school bus garage. Construction of a new garage is underway now west of the wastewater treatment plant, also on West Wolf River Avenue.

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