Abbyland proposes apartments in Curtiss
By Kevin O’Brien The owner of Abbyland Foods plans to build two apartment buildings for his workers in Curtiss, but village officials are sharply divided over whether to use the development as an excuse to open a new TIF district.
Village president Randy Busse told the board at its Oct. 6 meeting that Abbyland owner Harland Schraufnagel came to him directly with his plans for new housing in Curtiss.
“Last week Wednesday Harland pulled into my driveway and said he wanted to build housing on his property up by where El Norteno is,” he said. “He’s repurposing the building and he has no use for the soccer field.”
Based on a proposed site plan developed by The Boson Company the two apartment buildings would be located just east of the El Norteno restaurant, which closed earlier this year. Each building would be a little under 16,000 square feet, and they’d be accessible off Plaza Drive by passing through the north end of the restaurant parking lot.
Joe Dolezal of Boson, which designed and built the Northside Apartments for Abbyland in Abbotsford, said one of the buildings would have 16 units and the other would have between 12 and 14.
See CURTISS/ Page 10 Apartment sizes would range from oneto three-bedrooms.
The site plan calls for a total of 71 parking spaces, which is well over what is required by the village’s ordinances, Dolezal noted. The plan also includes a sidewalk leading toward the gas station across the road and new fencing around Abbyland’s truck stop area.
Trustee Betty Rettig immediately expressed concerns about the proposed apartment complex.
“What kind of guarantees are you going to give us that we’re not going to go through what they’re going through in Abbotsford? People in this village do not want that stuff,” she said.
Abbotsford’s Northside Apartments have been the scene of a couple high-profi le violent crimes and a source of complaints from neighboring homeowners. However, incident reports from the Colby- Abby Police Department show mostly minor issues at the apartments.
Dolezal said the apartment buildings are meant to provide local housing for Abbyland employees already working in Curtiss who do not want to travel as far for work.
Busse said the village is in no position to prevent Schraufnagel from building apartment buildings on land he owns.
“This is private property,” he said. “As long as he follows all the rules that are in place, he has every right to build it.”
The village’s zoning code is a little “messy” due to inconsistent records on file, Busse said, but the property should be zoned C-2 (commercial), which would allow for multi-family housing.
DPW Larry Swarr said the zoning map he found is not consistent with current land uses, but the comprehensive plan on record makes it clear that the apartments would be acceptable for this area.
“From my understanding of it, this use would definitely be consistent with the comprehensive plan,” he said.
Dolezal said Schraufnagel would like to break ground on the first apartment building as early as this year, with work on the second building starting in the spring, contingent on approval by the Wisconsin DNR.
A motion to approve a building permit was not on last week’s agenda, so no action was taken by the board.
With the two new apartment buildings expected to add an estimated $4 million to the village’s tax base, Busse said he thinks the board should consider creating a new TIF district to “capture” that value once the buildings are finished.
This way, instead of collecting just 15 percent of the property taxes on the new buildings, Busse said Curtiss could keep 100 percent of that revenue for a TIF that could be used to pay for infrastructure projects and development incentives.
TIF — tax incremental financing — works by allowing the local municipality to keep the property taxes normally distributed among the local school district, county, technical college and the municipality’s own general fund. In exchange, the municipality must spend that money to support further development.
Busse believes Curtiss could use a TIF district to pay for new wastewater treatment facilities being mandated by the DNR, and for a possible expansion of the village’s well system.
Walnut Creek, an Ohio-based food company, is still considering Curtiss as a possible site for a new cold storage facility, Busse noted, but the owners would like to see what kind of incentives the village can offer.
Abbyland’s pork plant may also be expanding in the near future, Busse said, but those plans won’t be finalized until the end of the year.
Curtiss closed its last TIF district at the end of 2015 after it had amassed over $25 million worth of development over a 20-year period. That TIF paid for the Plaza Drive area that includes Abbyland’s truck stop, gas station, El Norteno and the distribution center.
However, despite all of this commercial growth on the south end of the village, many Curtiss residents have expressed concerns about how the TIF district impacted their property taxes over the years.
At last week’s meeting, trustee John Unruh laid out a detailed case for how creating another TIF district would result in tax increases for village residents who don’t benefit the same way developers do from TIF projects.
Using a house on Meridian Street as example, he pointed out that the total tax bill on the $81,500 property dropped from about $2,500 in the final year of the previous TIF (2015) to about $1,600 in 2016 after the TIF district was closed.
Unruh said the owner of this house essentially paid an extra $885 per year “to support business development in Curtiss.” That’s because the village continued to raise its own tax levy every year by the percent of net new construction, but the taxes collected on new developments in the TIF district did not go into the general fund. As a result, all of the taxpayers with property outside the TIF district had to pay more.
Looking ahead, if the village were to create a new TIF district and $5 million worth of new building were constructed within its boundaries, the owners of that home on Meridian Street would see their tax bill go up $48 per year, according to Unruh’s projections.
Roughly $50 more per year in taxes might not seem like a lot, Unruh said, but for a family living paycheck to paycheck, “that’s taking groceries out of the mom’s car.”
Unruh said he went door-to-door to ask residents for their opinions on creating a new TIF, and out of the 14 people he spoke to, eight were against it, three were for it, and three were undecided.
Trustee Rettig wholeheardedly agreed with her fellow board member’s objections.
“We want to keep our village people happy. That is why were elected to the board,” she said. “That is what we’re doing. We are for the people.”
Busse, however, continued to push the benefits of having a TIF district.
The village’s previous TIF plan was “botched,” he said, because village officials at the time failed to get developer’s agreements for the first six years the district was open. Busse said that could be done differently this time so the village guarantees that it’s benefitting from the new development.
“The trick is to have developer’s agreements right off the bat so you know they can’t back out,” he said.
Without TIF incentives to offer for businesses, Busse said there may not be as many jobs or housing available for local residents.
Unruh disagreed, pointing out that Abbyland Foods was going to build the new apartments anyway and is not asking for any public infrastructure improvements, since water and sewer is already available in that area.
Ultimately, the board took no action on creating a new TIF district, but Busse said he would try to get more information about the benefits of TIF for the next meeting.
“I’m not trying to push it through tonight,” he said. “I’m just bringing up the discussion.”
Unruh said he and Rettig are likely to vote down any proposed TIF district, but he did not rule out the possibility entirely.
“In the end, I’m not 100 percent opposed to TIF,” he said. “I’m opposed to doing things that aren’t in the best interest of the taxpayers. And there is nothing with any of the developments that have been discussed that, at this current time, make it in the interest of taxpayers to put in a TIF.”