By Shereen Siewert
Wausau’s Economic Development Committee on Wednesday held off on a proposed Thomas Street redevelopment, vowing to seek citizen engagement before making a final decision on the project.
Aedifix Holdings, which is owned by Amherst-based Blenker Construction, seeks to purchase land from the city — remnant parcels from the Thomas Street Phase II project — for $1 and is also seeking 20 percent tax increment financing participation. In addition, Aedifix is asking the city to validate that the development sites are clear of any environmental contamination.
Plans for the remnant parcels include more than 30 units of housing along with a building that could be used for retail, commercial, or office purposes. Rents for the proposed town homes would range from $1,300 to $1,500 per month, an amount neighborhood resident and Wausau City Council Dist. 3 council candidate Tom Kilian called “astounding.”
The proposed developments lie in Dist. 3.
Kilian, in his public comments Tuesday to the committee, did not dismiss the proposal out of hand, but urged members to engage the neighborhood before making such decisions.
“What you are dealing with on Thomas Street is not a chop shop, it is a neighborhood…It is not intended to be exploited, demolished, and monetized,” Kilian said. “People in that neighborhood deserve the same respect and the same public involvement and processes that we have seen in other parts of the city. We need to have a public involvement process.”
Kilian specifically pointed to the lack of time residents had to weigh in on the proposal, which city officials only received on Friday.
Mary Thao, who represents Wausau’s Dist. 10, is not a member of the Economic Development Committee but appeared at the meeting to speak on behalf of residents in her own district who have expressed widespread concern about duplexes built in late 2018 and in 2019 by Blenker on Thomas Street Phase I parcels. Dist. 10 is adjacent to Dist. 3.
Many neighborhood residents in Dist. 3 opposed the earlier Thomas Street duplex construction, and a petition urging officials to reject the plan garnered about 120 signatures from Dist. 10 residents, according to city documents. Though the petition was submitted to the city clerk before the project was approved, council members opted to move forward with the plan.
Thao said current concerns she continues to hear from residents about the prior duplex project range from short driveway setbacks, safety concerns, limited space between the sidewalk and driveway, and the upkeep of the homes built as part of an earlier project. She also said she was disappointed when Blenker did not take the initial project on the west side of Thomas Street to completion, but rather sold the project to an LLC after it was about 75 percent complete.
But Thao also said Blenker is clearly very open to Wausau’s input, and encouraged the committee to “gather intel” on the Phase I project from constituents before moving forward.
“It sounds like Blenker is willing to listen, and I hope the committee feels the same way,” Thao said.
After meeting in closed session, the group opted to wait on a decision and instead seek resident input on the proposed development, which is one of two responses to a request for proposals issued in January for the remnant parcels.
Aedifix is also proposing multiple residential buildings on Second and Third Streets north of downtown Wausau.