Wellner casts rare tie breaking vote to choose housing developer
With a tie-breaking vote from mayor Mike Wellner, the Medford city council Tuesday night, decided to go with a two-story design for a proposed 40-unit apartment complex on a 4.4-acre lot on Progressive Avenue just north of the Northcentral Technical College Campus.
With Tuesday’s vote, the proposed complex will be built and managed by Commonwealth Development. The company is seeking to tap into a federal tax credit program that helps leverage financing for income eligible workforce housing projects in rural areas. The apartments, which are targeted as “workforce housing” would be open to those making a mixture of 30%, 50% and 80% of the adjusted median income of the county.
Commonwealth Development’s proposal calls for the city giving them the land as part of the project and for the
Mayor Mike Wellner construction of two-story apartment buildings with apartments either on the upper or lower level and centrally located garage structures. They would manage the property into the future.
A second firm, Northpointe Development had proposed purchasing the lot from the city for a price of $55,000 and developing it with single-story cottage style apartments on the parcel. Under both proposals the complex would be taxable.
The choice between the two firms was not an easy one for aldermen and came down to such things as the amount of green space in the plan, the accessibility of the apartments, placement of dumpsters on the plans and the perception of relative safety.
“No matter what plan is picked it will be a positive for the community because it is needed,” said Alderman Laura Holmes.
After casting the tie-breaking vote, Wellner thanked aldermen for the amount of time and thought that went into the decision. “I appreciate the work you did on it,” he said. “We had strong feelings on both sides; hopefully it will work out.”
Alderman Mike Bub spoke in support of Northpointe’s proposal favoring the one-story units with attached garages, making his case on the increased accessibility of single-story apartment.
“The intent of this project was to add affordable housing to the Medford area,” Bub said. “The key here is housing. Some of the people needing a place to live may be people with disabilities. With more and more companies making accommodations to provide jobs for people with disabilities, I do not understand why we would select a project that only 50% of the units would be usable by people with disabilities and to elderly potential residents. All across the country people are trying to find more opportunities for people with disabilities to live on their own and be productive.”
Bub also noted that having attached garages when the temperatures are -20 degrees or worse is better than the detached garage building proposed for the Commonwealth plan.
Another factor that Bub asked the council to consider was the offer by Northpointe to purchase the parcel upfront for $55,000. “Northpointe is willing to pay the taxpayers of Medford $55,000 for the property which if not the most may be close to the most ever paid to the city for land in the industrial parks,” he said.
“Both will pay property taxes going forward. Both values given in their presentations are just estimates. As we learned with Walmart, promises of future tax payments do not always come true,” Bub said.
Bub said concerns over placement of dumpsters or snow removal are issues the developer will have to deal with because the property will be theirs.
“The snow removal and dumpsters are our problem because we are the ones building this,” said alderman Dave Roiger noting that in the eyes of the community it is a city project. He said the absence of dumpster location in the plans is a red flag to him that other details have not been considered.
Alderman Greg Knight also voiced opposition to the Northpointe plan claiming that the company was trying to cram too many units on the parcel. He noted it was 9.9 units per acre proposed for here compared to 8 units per acre the company built in Sturgeon Bay.
“Our goal should be to provide good quality housing not worry about if there is room for a touch football game,” Bub said, Knight also addressed the accessibility concerns raised by Bub, noting that the buildings will be accessible with lower level apartments. He also noted that not everyone is disabled and that all disabilities don’t mean they have to live on the first floor.
Bub disagreed. He noted that the country is trying hard to make it that more people can live independently and that firms are employing people who would have been considered unemployable 15 years ago. “I want to make it so the maximum number of people can live there,” he said.
After giving a period of time for final discussion, Wellner asked for a motion for the council to move forward. Roiger made the motion and Knight seconded to go with the Commonwealth proposal featuring two-story buildings with upper and lower apartments. On a roll call vote, Roiger, Knight, Holmes and Hansen voted yes with Bub, Clem Johnson, Tim Hansen and Christina Weix voting no. Wellner broke the tie by voting in favor of Commonwealth.
With the decision, the developers will prepare an application for the WHEDA tax credit program to be filed next fall. Work could begin next year.
In other business, council members:
_ Received notification that officer Carrie Thums
would be resigning from the department after one year of service. The police commission will begin the hiring process for her replacement.
_ Approved a preliminary resolution declaring the city’s intent for special assessments for the Shattuck St. project. As with other road projects, the city assesses property owners based on road frontage for a portion of the project costs including one-third of the blacktop, curb and gutter, laterals, driveway aprons and a portion of the engineering fees. The city does not assess for sidewalk on road projects with city policy to place sidewalk on one side of the streets as they are rebuilt.
_ Approved hiring Anthony Schuett as a patrol officer. As part of the employment agreement, the city agreed to waive the 15-mile residency rule for on-call employees. Bub voiced his disagreement with waiving the residency requirement. “We should get rid of the residency rule or enforce it, I don’t like that we make exceptions,” he said.
_ Approved the bids for public works materials and equipment and for awarding the capital construction bids for the Shattuck St. project and the Whelen Ave. water main work to Melvin Companies.