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Neighbors oppose condos in former Portage nursing home

November 22, 2016 GMT

A Reedsburg developer wants to put condos into the abandoned nursing home on West Pleasant Street.

But many neighbors are against it. And city planners don’t have enough information to support it.

After a well-attended public hearing at city hall Monday, the city’s Plan Commission took no action on a rezoning request needed to preliminarily move the project forward.

“We definitely need some more work coming back from the developer if we are going to even entertain this in a future meeting,” said Mayor Rick Dodd, the commission chairman.

City staff said that the developer, Jim Schernecker, did not provide enough information for them to make a recommendation on the proposal. That information was requested but not returned, Dodd said.

“It is very difficult to support this at this time without having more detail,” Dodd said.

Schernecker only provided a very rough idea of his plan to install 13 to 24 condo units. He sought to have the property rezoned to allow for the multifamily development.

“I have an accepted offer of purchase on the property,” Schernecker wrote in a letter to the city. “The offer is subject to obtaining a rezone.”

The property is owned by Divine Savior Healthcare.

Residents’ fears

Many residents from the neighborhood attended the meeting and spoke against the project at a public hearing prior to the Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Many of the negative comments from the public centered around maintaining property values, a desire to keep the area a single-family neighborhood, the lacking of project details, and potentially attracting problematic tenants.

Residents expressed fear that the building could become “Section 8” housing or a “flop house.”

Speaking at the public hearing, Roberta Condon, who lives across the street from the property, said city leaders should protect one of the most beautiful streets in Portage by turning down the proposal.

“This will negatively affect the value of our properties and negatively affect the value of Portage, in general,” she said. “This is not the street for (multifamily housing).”

Developer responds

Schernecker also spoke at the public hearing and tried to ease the residents’ fears. Schernecker, who owns several other properties in Portage, said he is a responsible property manager.

Schernecker pointed to his management of a halfway house in Reedsburg and his role in helping house veterans.

“I manage at an acceptable level,” he said. “The property is not going to be some sort of you blow in, make a mess, and take off.”

Schernecker said he sees potential in the property as an “upscale” living environment that could be especially useful for disabled citizens.

“I don’t need this headache, but I thought it has some real possibilities to have some disabled people in there, disabled veterans,” he said.

Furthermore, responding to residents’ concerns about the the impact, Schernecker said, leaving the building sit and deteriorate is not in the neighborhood’s best interest.

He said the site has black mold and is subject to negative transient activity.

“How long do you want that to go on” he asked rhetorically.

Commission opinions

At the end of the day, the proposal was not serious enough to warrant a vote, according to city officials.

“I have to believe that this a multimillion dollar project,” said Commission member Chuck Sulick, but “I don’t feel that we have, at this point, enough to even make a decision on this.”

Although members did not vote one way or the other on the project proposal, members of the commission discussed the idea of a multi-family development at the property, in general.

It was a hard “no” for Commission member Peter Tofson.

“This is not the place for multifamily … it doesn’t belong there.” Tofson said. “It is like putting a round peg in a square hole.”

Common Council member and commission member Mike Charles said he is open to redevelopment of the old institutional building.

“I would love to see something done with the building instead of a total razing,” Charles said.

For Commission member Frank Miller, leaving the building abandoned is a problem. It is falling apart, needs upkeep, and is covered with graffiti in areas.

“The present condition is not helping that neighborhood,” Miller said.

Public turnout

A couple dozen people were at city hall during the public hearing on the proposal and a couple of other issues.

That’s a big difference from most public hearings, city leaders said.

Commission members expressed appreciation. Several explicitly thanked the audience for caring and taking the time to share their opinions.

It made an impact, Dodd said.

“I heard loud and clear from everybody that talked on this,” he said.