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City eyes vacant industrial park land for apartment complex

The city of Medford is eyeing an unused parcel in the industrial park for a potential rental development.

Jessica Mudgett of the Taylor County Housing Authority is working with a private developer to bring additional affordable rental housing to the Medford area by participating in Federal Housing Tax Credit (HTC) program administered by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA). Under the competitive HTC program, participating developers can receive a 9% tax credit for qualified developments. One way to maximize the number of points available is for local municipalities to give land for the projects to take place. The benefit to the municipality is that they get a boost in housing, as well as additional property taxes on the apartment complex.

Mudgett had previously proposed the city purchase a 10-acre parcel on Gibson St. which has been for sale for some time and it is already zoned for multi-family use. The Gibson St. parcel is currently listed at $117,900, down from a previous asking price of $139,000.

While supportive of the overall program and its potential, city council members and city staff had been concerned about the amount of wetland on the parcel and if it could be viably developed. In addition to the purchase price of the land, mayor Mike Wellner said there would be other costs including $3,000 for a wetland study and about $6,800 in additional sewer and water upgrades with no guarantees on the development ever occurring.

As an alternative location, city coordinator Joe Harris proposed a city-owned lot on Progressive Ave. just to the north of the Northcentral Technical College campus and across the street from Marathon Cheese. The land is the remaining portion of the lot that was divided to allow NTC to build a campus building in the city. Harris said he spoke to the developer who estimated being able to put 30 housing units on the property. Harris also reported on checking with other cities that have used the HTC program and found it is common to have these developments in or near industrial park areas.

According to Wellner, the benefits of the Progressive Ave. location is the city already owns it, the utilities to it are already in place and with proximity to both the technical college and employment opportunities it would be a good location for an affordable housing development. “I think there are a lot more positives than negatives,” he said.

Alderman Greg Knight objected to the Progressive Ave. site opposing the idea of having residential development in an industrial area. He noted the city already said they wouldn’t allow ATVs there, but said a residential development would lead to kids on bikes and pedestrians.

Harris noted that with the amount of people walking for exercise in the industrial park currently, the city is going to need to look at the idea of sidewalk or bike paths in that area regardless of if this development takes place. Mudgett questioned if the city would commit to installing sidewalk if the development was successful.

Wellner said that while he could not speak for the council, the city’s views on sidewalks have shifted over the years to being more willing to put them in. “I think council would go along with sidewalks,” he said. Alderman Christine Weix said she had received numerous calls from residents in the Eagle Ridge subdivision and others concerned about the Gibson St. location and its impact on local traffic. She said most callers were opposed to the Gibson Ave. location for the project.

Alderman Tim Hansen noted a major advantage of the Progressive Ave. location is that it eliminates the “not in my neighborhood” argument in regard to people not wanting to be near affordable housing projects.

Knight still objected to what he said was creating a “disconnected island” in the industrial park. Harris countered by noting there were town of Medford residences near there already and that if they put sidewalk in it would be connected to the rest of the city. “We can put a lot of sidewalk in for $140,000,” he said, comparing it to the cost to purchase the other lot.

One factor of the Progressive Ave. property is that it is in Tax Incremental District No. 12 which means that taxes on the improvements to the property are retained by the city to pay down the money borrowed to build the roads and utilities. While Knight said this would delay tax benefits for general city residents, alderman Mike Bub disagreed saying that creating more tax value in TID 12 will help pay it off faster and allow it to close sooner. He noted the city is essentially blocked from any new development projects because Medford is at its maximum for TIDs. Allowing TID 12 to close sooner, he said would open up new possibilities.

Alderman Dave Roiger also spoke in favor of the Progressive Ave. location. He put it in perspective noting that the affordable housing complex isn’t the home people are going to move into until they retire, but rather a place for people starting out. He said with the NTC campus right there and factories across the street it gives people a place they can afford where they have access to ways to improve themselves.

In the end, aldermen voted to recommend moving forward with the Progressive Ave. parcel to participate in the HTC program with the plan for a residential development. As part of the motion, aldermen said sidewalk would be developed in the area if the project was accepted in the HTC program.

Crosswalk project

The city of Medford will move forward with installing pedestrian-activated crosswalk signals using city funding rather than donations from the Medford Morning Rotary Club.

With citizen complaints about traffi c not stopping for pedestrians trying to cross Hwy 64 in the city, Rotary Club members worked with police chief Chad Liske to develop a plan to address the concern and improve safety. They researched options and proposed the installation of four pedestrian-activated signals to be placed at Joan St., Washington Ave., Whelen Ave. and 4th Street. Pedestrians wishing to cross the road will push a button which will activate a flashing light to indicate to motorists they intend to cross the street. Under state law motorists are required to stop for pedestrians at crosswalks once they signal their intent to cross. They are currently expected to signal intent by stepping into the roadway. “A smart person isn’t going to spit off the curb,” Roiger said.

Harris recommended the city go with hard-wired signs rather than solar-power ones because it will result in less potential for long-term maintenance problems. The total cost of the project is estimated at about $30,000.

The proposal called for the city to pay about 40% of the cost of the costs and the Rotary Club seeking grants and donations to cover the remainder over time. Hansen said he thought it was a really great project and praised the citizens who found an issue and came forward with a solution. “This is how government is supposed to work,” he said.

Hansen’s only issue was that he felt for a public safety measure, the city should have the responsibility to pay for it. “I think this is strictly the city’s responsibility,” he said. He noted that it was diffi cult enough to do any fundraising with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and said the Rotary Club is better using their club’s funds to improve the community in other ways.

Weix agreed and praised the Rotary Club members for the work they have put into the project to this point.

“The idea of raising money at this point in history is not very easy to do,” said Rotary Club member Mark Temme. He said the club was pursuing a competitive grant but would not know until closer to fall.

Knight questioned if the city was undertaking the entire project, if they could move one of the sets to the 7th Street intersection where there are significant crossing problems. Wellner said the committee with chief Liske had recommended the crossings, noting there were concerns with the 7th Street intersection and the possibility of backing traffic onto Hwy 13. Wellner did not rule out adding more of the signals to other parts of the city if these were successful in improving pedestrian safety.

Aldermen voted to approve the project and move forward with the city providing the funding. In other business, aldermen:

_ Recommended spending $68,000 for a new one-ton truck and crane for the wastewater treatment utility. The truck will be purchased from Wheelers Chevrolet which had the low bid of $31,187.80. The Monroe FX brand service body with a Venturo ET8KX Crane is an additional $36,714. The new truck will replace one purchased in 2000.

_ Recommended suspending rental payments for the city-owned Chamber of Commerce office for 2021. The request came from mayor Wellner noting the additional work the Chamber has been doing to promote area businesses during the pandemic and that he felt their resources would be better used to that purpose. The city charges the Chamber $270 for rent for the building. That money is put into a designated account so that the city has funds available if major repairs are needed to the building. As per the terms of the lease, the Chamber will continue to pay all utility charges for the office.

_ Recommended moving forward for now with Great Lakes Utility (GLU) proposal to add electrical generation capacity. The city is a founding member of GLU and uses the consortium to negotiate for purchasing power and capacity. The group is looking at acquiring generators that were originally planned for a ship to be placed in Manitowoc for power generation. Other projects include the expansion of solar into the member communities. According to Harris and electric utility manager Spence Titera, the purpose of coming to the city council now was to gauge interest in if it was worth continuing being involved. Any final decision is months to more than a year away.