By Shereen Siewert
City officials on Tuesday gave the green light to a local developer’s proposal to build six single-family homes on city-owned parcels along Thomas Street, despite concerns about the environmental fitness and price point of the properties.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wausau-based Tyler Knudson Construction, LLC, will buy six lots from the city for a total of $45,000 and construct homes that will sell for between $200,000 and $240,000 each. The properties sit on the north side of the 100 block of Thomas Street and are remnant parcels from a recent road project.
Earlier in the process, Dist. 3 representative Tom Kilian was one of several council members who objected to the high price point of the homes, which he said does not align with the typical home prices in the neighborhood. Kilian initially supported the language of the request for proposals that sought “attainable homes,” but was later shocked by the home prices.
In addition to pricing issues and a desire for affordable housing, several council members on Tuesday relayed serious concerns about documented contamination on the site. The properties are adjacent to a brownfield cleanup site that has been the subject of repeated soil and groundwater testing.
Dist. 10 representative Lou Larson shared an email from Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources representative Matt Thompson, who recommended any potential buyer or developer to due their due diligence and perform both a Phase I and Phase II environmental study to better understand the condition of the property.
So far, no studies are planned, though Wausau Public Works Director Eric Lindman told the council that a top layer of soil on the properties has already been removed and taken to the landfill. But Thompson, in his email to Larson, said there is no data to support the claim that the soil removal rendered the properties safe.
Kilian asked if the city would provide a real estate condition report to the buyer to disclose all potential issues with the property. But City Attorney Anne Jacobson said the city has never, to her knowledge, provided such a document when selling property.
Regardless, Wausau Business Specialist Sean Fitzgerald said the city could actually include a report, a move Kilian approved of but the council voted against. Members of the council defeated a motion that would have added a requirement for the city to include the condition report, which would have been public record.
“We know that those properties are sitting on a plume of contaminated groundwater and it seems the buyer would want to know that,” Kilian said.
Dist. 11 representative Debra Ryan said she could not support the proposal based on several issues.
“Based on the cost of housing and because of the environmental issues….we need to be forthcoming about contamination,” Ryan said. “If we’re not going to include that, I’m not going to vote for the proposal.”
So far, an offer to purchase has not been formalized, said Assistant City Attorney Tara Alfonso. Alfonso said the details, including potential deed restrictions, are yet to be worked out.
“Just to be clear, because this is clear as mud, we may or may not get an offer to purchase,” City Council President Becky McElhaney said.
The disagreement about the RFP prompted Larson to suggest that the city council as a whole should get more involved in the process to prevent future issues.
“There were so many holes in this RFP that should have been caught before this even went out,” Larson said.
Darn Herbst, Sarah Watson, Lisa Rasmussen, Becky McElhaney, Michael Martens, Tom Neal and Pat Peckham voted to approve, while Jim Wadinski, Tom Kilian, Debra Ryan and Lou Larson opposed. The proposal was approved 7-4.
Two different styles of two-story, 1,400 square-foot homes are planned, each with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and an attached two-car garage with construction beginning in May. The company estimates the completed construction value of the entire project at about $1,320,000 which would generate property taxes of roughly $12,800 annually based on the 2020 city tax rate, according to city documents.