By Shereen Siewert

Members of the Wausau City Council will decide Tuesday whether to correct a zoning error at a property with demonstrated environmental contamination, a move that – if approved – would effectively close the door on future industrial uses for the parcel.

The city’s Plan Commission in March voted 5-2 to correct the error at 1300 Cleveland Avenue, a property Wausau now owns. The issue came to light after a 360-page Phase II study, performed by GEI Consultants, noted levels of potentially cancer-causing contaminants at as much as four times the industrial standard in some areas of the property. The study was released earlier this year.

The property was rezoned in November 2018 by the Wausau City Council, whose members unanimously supported changing the zoning from industrial to residential on the property. The change ensured that no further manufacturing operations would be allowed at that location, which is partially surrounded by residential homes. The vote also meant that any environmental cleanup on the property would be held to a more stringent standard.

According to a memo by City Planner and Interim Development Director Brad Lenz, the property was reclassified in 2019 during a city-wide rezoning project. The error prompted new fears that the zoning change could pave the way for future operations by either of two nearby companies – Kolbe & Kolbe and 3M – both of which proposed property developments last year to expand their operations. 

During the March Plan Commission meeting, two representatives from companies that previously sought to acquire the property urged the council to allow the new zoning to prevail. David Piehler, of Weston, spoke on behalf of 3M to ask that the Commission look at the “big picture,” and said that characterizing the rezone as correcting an error is “a little bit simplistic.”

“There’s no rush to rezone,” said Piehler. “This it is city-owned property and remediation will be different for whatever use you decide.” 

A representative from Kolbe & Kolbe, the other company interested in acquiring the property, also spoke during the Plan Commission meeting. Mike Tomscyk, vice-president and treasurer of Kolbe & Kolbe, was sharply critical of efforts to change the property’s zoning to residential, suggesting the move signals lack of support for local businesses.

“There is no urgent need to rezone this property,” Tomscyk said. “Support of local businesses wanting to expand would really be appreciated. Apparently there is a desire to quench that today.” 

But public comment taken both before and during the meeting was largely on the side of restoring the zoning change to residential status. Several people spoke in person including Marathon County Board Dist. 3 Supervisor William Harris, who told the Commission he strongly supported reversing the zoning error and restoring the code to residential after hearing from many residents in the neighborhood. The property lies in Harris’ county board district.

Dist. 3 Alder Tom Kilian, who represents the district in which the property lies, said there was a tremendous amount of feedback from Wausau residents that indicated overwhelming support for the city to correct the zoning map error back to residential.

The Wausau City Council meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau. See the full packet here.