Damakant Jayshi

City leaders on Tuesday granted a request from bantr company to expand apartment leases to include short-term rentals and hotel rooms.

The change from an apartment lease arrangement to include hotel room-style use likely needs to be approved by the Wausau Plan Commission later this month, according to city officials.

The vote to approve the second amendment to the development agreement with bantr’s RJ Elm Properties, LLC for its apartment complex at 1520 Elm Street was 10-0. One alder was absent.

Alder Michael Martens who supported the change said he has concerns about “short-term rental market eating up our existing housing stock,” but a plan like this “that will not impact our other housing stock that can be used by low-to-moderate-income individuals is a great thing.”

Wausau Economic Development Manager Randy Fifrick told the City Council that the change would allow the company to fill up any empty rooms. “We want to see businesses succeed in the city.”

Bantr operates several apartment complexes in the metro area. The newest addition to the bantr lineup is in Wausau, at 1520 Elm St. Residents can choose from a studio to a three-bedroom space, with flexible lease terms. Furnished and unfurnished options are available.

Company officials said that the hotel-room style occupancy would allow the company to cater to the changing needs of customers. Leases would vary from days to months and even for longer periods, the company representative and former City of Wausau Human Resources director Michael Loy said, at the Economic Development Committee meeting last week. The expanded nature of the occupancy would help people who have moved to Wausau and are still looking for a permanent place to live, or waiting to close on a home purchase.

On Tuesday, there was a brief discussion, especially focused on getting residents’ feedback from the area.

Dist. 11 Alder Chad Henke, who represents the area where the apartment complex is situated, said he held a community meeting on Monday along with Alder Tom Kilian and no one objected to the proposal. At the Economic Development Committee meeting last week, Kilian had emphasized getting feedback from neighborhood residents after former Dist. 11 Alder Debra Ryan objected to the change, terming it “inappropriate.”

Last week, Community Development Director Liz Brodek told the Economic Development Committee that Plan Commission will have an opportunity for public input when it takes up SIP, site implementation plan, for the project.

On Tuesday, Kilian said it was positive that a community meeting was organized and wanted to see that in light of Ryan’s objection last week. Kilian added he “did not note any further objections at the neighborhood meeting.”

But Alder Doug Diny was surprised at the pace of the requested change moving forward. “I didn’t realize it was coming down as a fast track,” he said. “I thought we were going to have some neighborhood engagement.”

Former Alder Ryan, who lost to Henke in the April election last year, also sent a letter to the editor to this newspaper in which she reiterated her objections to the proposed change and asked if an analysis of the unmet needs for short term executive and professional rentals in Wausau was undertaken before the decision. “No report….just take our word that it is needed,” Ryan wrote.

The bantr request will be review by the Wausau Plan Commission later this month.

“The plan commission would review this partial change from full apartment building to apartment building and hotel use,” Wausau’s Chief Inspector/Zoning Administrator William Hebert told Wausau Pilot & Review earlier this week, when asked to explain what rules and regulations applied in the wake of the change granted by the Economic Development Committee last week. “My understanding was they went to Economic Development to gauge the support bantr would have to allow for partial hotel use.”

Hebert also outlined the next steps.

The staff will review potential building code changes for hotel use, Hebert said, adding that bantr would need to submit a plan detail on which rooms would see an occupancy style change. “Once we have reviewed the plans and approved any building changes, then the Marathon County Health Department would review the building for licensing requirements,” Hebert said.

The Plan Commission meeting is on Oct. 17 but it is not clear when the discussion on bantr will take place.