BOSCOBEL - The City of Boscobel will purchase 10 lots in the Pine Shores Estates development in a bid to ease the local housing crunch, but the zoning on those lots will not change, at least for now.
That was the conclusion of Monday night’s marathon council meeting, which lasted more than 2 hours and featured a handful of dramatic plot twists worthy of a Netflix series.
At issue is about an acre of mature pine forest that shields the residential neighborhood from J&J Salvage next door. The city proposes to purchase the lots, which have been for sale for 26 years, cut down the trees, build an earthen berm, and re-sell the plots to private developers through the city housing authority. As part of the purchase agreement, the city proposed to change the zoning of the 7 lots to allow higher density housing—up to 8 units per building.
Neighbors of the lots expressed their concerns about higher density housing and exposing the salvage lot at a raucous May 9 meeting of the city planning commission, which voted against the rezoning. The commission is charged with making planning recommendations to the council, which holds the actual decision-making power.
A dozen of them repeated their arguments at the city council meeting. At the end of their public comments, the meeting, with Mayor Brenda Kalish’s blessing, turned into an unusual free-flowing dialog between members of the council and the community.
City Engineer backs down
After nearly an hour of disCity
Engineer: “I apologize”
cussion, in a startling reversal, City Engineer and Director of Public Works Mike Reynolds, who sits on the planning commission and voted in favor of rezoning, withdrew his support with a public apology.
“I’m would just personally like to apologize, because I’m really the one that pushed to have these rezoned,” said Reynolds, turning to face the public section of council chambers. “It wasn’t how I voted at the planning commission meeting, but I had a lot of time to think about it after the meeting. And I would recommend leaving it as an R1, as the planning commission recommended.”
Reynolds added that a steering committee, which will include representatives from the neighborhood, could recommend changes to zoning on a case-by-case basis, as plans for development are fleshed out.
After some further discussion, the council voted against re-zoning the lots. All voted against, with Steve Fritz abstaining.
A private meeting
The open discussion continued as the council took up the question of purchasing the lots.
The city has $200,000 set aside for purchase and redevelopment of the lots. The purchase price from current owner Shimpach Enterprises and closing costs will total about $127,000 for all 10 lots, leaving about $73,000 to clear the lots and build a structure to screen them from the junkyard next door. A revised purchase agreement with Schimpach had been prepared, and the city planned to close on the property this Thursday, May 19.
After some general discussion, a motion was made to purchase the land, but the meeting was brought to an abrupt halt by Kelly Trumm, executive director of Boscobel’s housing authority who asked the council to table the decision. “I received some information this afternoon,” Trumm explained to the surprised council. “I don’t feel like I can say it publicly.”
“I guess the Housing Authority is our Housing Authority, so you probably want to take a vote on that,” City Administrator Misty Molzof advised the council.
At Molzof’s suggestion, Trumm met behind closed doors with City Attorney Ben Wood. After several minutes of private discussion, Wood returned to report to the council.
“Here’s the issue that came up. In order to do this through the [Housing and Urban Development] program, there will need to be some extra money that will have to be given from the city to the Housing Authority before it can happen. We’re not talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, but there will be extra expense,” Wood explained.
“Is it going to be less than the $200,000 that we have? Because we need some money to do the improvements that we want to do there,” asked Reynolds.
Wood confirmed that it would leave money on the table for improvements.
Trumm elaborated by phone on Tuesday that the additional expenses related to administrative costs such as meeting with developers and real estate agents, as well as the cost of maintaining the lots until private parties purchase them.
Schimpach signs agreement
With the new information on the table, a vote was called on the original motion to purchase the lots. It passed with 7 votes in favor and Fritz’s abstention.
There followed some confusion about whether Schimpach had signed the right documents to close the deal. “You know what, she run six or seven copies through? I could have given the farm away. I have no idea they were,” he said.
Wood retrieved the correct document, and Schimpach signed it in council chambers while the public filed out of the meeting.
In other business, the council approved:
• The summer rec and pool employee wages.
• A conditional use permit for Grant County to build its communications tower.
• Changes to the city administrator’s summer schedule.
• Outsourcing zoning administration to General Engineering.
• Moving forward on a leaf vac purchase.
• Bids for stump removal, street maintenance, and plumbing work at the theater.