Wausau-owned property at 1300 Cleveland Ave. was at the center of discussion again last week when the City Council met to discuss, among other things, whether to approve a request to fund a feasibility study at the property – only to be told the study had already begun.
The Finance Committee gave a green light to the Dept. of Public Works request before the matter, which DPW Director Eric Lindman described as a “planning site assessment,” was forwarded to the full council.
Lindman said he had informed everyone who needed to be informed – Mayor Katie Rosenberg, chair of both Finance Committee and Capital Improvement and Street Maintenance Committee Lisa Rasmussen, and City Attorney Anne Jacobson. Dist. 3 Alder Tom Kilian, who represents a portion of the district surrounding the property, was not included in the list.
Lindman also ignored council president Becky McElhaney’s advice that Kilian be informed. During the meeting on Tuesday, Lindman said he could not recall the directive.
When both Kilian and Dist. 1 Alder Pat Peckham asked Lindman a series of questions about his request to approve an additional $15,000 for the feasibility study to increase the size of the DPW’s fleet maintenance shop, Lindman revealed that the study was launched in the summer. DPW already spent $10,000 on the assessment.
“Department heads have authority, up to $10,000, to complete work,” Lindman said. “This is a council-approved policy. This work is professional services.”
Department heads can pursue professional services without a City Council resolution if the overall amount for such services does not exceed $25,000, according to the City’s Procurement Policy.
Both at the City Council meeting and in his series of responses to Wausau Pilot & Review, Lindman defended the DPW’s working style.
“The review of 1300 Cleveland Ave. was on multiple committee agendas including finance, so this was very transparent to the entire council and public,” Lindman said. “But in general terms, we look at properties all the time for different uses.”
Jacobson told Wausau Pilot & Review that the request was “a fund transfer within the published budget, rather than a budget modification.”
But the DPW was carrying out “planning site assessment” even though, in its own estimation, the property was already deemed inadequate for its proposed expansion.
“Right now it is too small but we want to spend $25,000 to look at it?” Peckham asked the director.
Lindman responded by saying the assessment work was necessary to look at various options before he could make any recommendation to the council.
“I may not have been real clear to council [Tuesday] night but the idea of using both the Cleveland property and our existing property for facilities would give us over 10 acres to work with setting up our proposed operations,” Lindman wrote to Wausau Pilot & Review.
Mayor Rosenberg defended the department.
“CISM heard about this property in relation to the DPW shop when they discussed the fleet study a few months ago,” Rosenberg told Wausau Pilot & Review. “It’s not uncommon for city staff consider city owned properties – and other properties – for various projects. That scope of work changing prompted the discussions at Finance and Council.”
If a DPW shop would be set up at 1300 Cleveland Ave., the area would have to be rezoned.
“Rezoning 1300 Cleveland Avenue back to industrial for a potential DPW expansion could lead to much less rigorous remediation standards being used for the site’s cleanup and hypothetically could open the door to other industrial operations or entities using that site in the future, in part or in its entirety, without having to go through a rezoning process for the parcel to change it from residential to industrial status, as that rezoning would have occurred already,” Kilian told Wausau Pilot & Review.
Alder Lisa Rasmussen, in a city email, pointed to a previous vote by Kilian to rezone a city area from residential to industrial. But Kilian said that vote centered on a small-scale zoning change immediately adjacent to the current DPW facility.
“I had not received any objections from my constituents, nor heard of any, and it was a profoundly different situation than this 1300 Cleveland Ave. matter,” Kilian said.
Kilian acknowledged he met with the plant manager at 3M, which has shown interest in buying a part of the Cleveland Avenue property and has appeared at several council meetings. The two discussed contamination at the site, Kilian said, and the 3M representative did not ask him to support the company’s bid to buy a parcel of the land. Kilian has opposed selling any land in the residential neighborhood for 3M or Kolbe and Kolbe expansion.
The assessment began even as the city awaits test results from soil and groundwater at the property, which has a long history of contamination. Lindman told Council President McElhaney that information necessary to determine cleanup won’t be fully available until 2023.
McElhaney said that she could not support approving the additional amount given the circumstances.
The mayor later told Wausau Pilot & Review that Wausau is committed to testing and clean up. “I think the council’s priorities are pretty clear based on the last year and a half of discussions,” Rosenberg said.
The City Council voted 6-5 to remove 1300 Cleveland Ave. from the resolution approving a feasibility study of three plots. McElhaney, Peckham, and Kilian were joined by Tom Neal, Sarah Watson and Debra Ryan all voted to remove the property from feasibility study consideration. Rasmussen, along with Dawn Herbst, Jim Wadinski, Michael Martens and Lou Larson voted against the motion. Larson earlier said he would cast a “no” vote because he opposed spending money at any of the sites involved.
Later, Peckham told Wausau Pilot & Review that he was put off by the manner in which the whole episode came about.
The Council unanimously approved the additional funding to study two other sites, 213-233 Myron St. and 400 Myron St. in Wausau.
Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.