Problem at former lumberyard site adds cleanup options to negotiations as village tries to expedite redevelopment effort
Concerns with soil contamination have thrown a wrinkle into a redevelopment project in downtown Grafton.
Village Administrator Darrell Hofland said contaminants were discovered this fall at a former lumberyard site off Wisconsin Avenue earmarked for commercial and residential uses, and that additional studies will be needed to determine the extent of the problem.
The 2.2-acre site — which is part of a 4.5-acre redevelopment area bordered on the east by Wisconsin Avenue, on the north by Beech Street, on the west by the Canadian National Railroad right of way and on the south by an apartment complex — is owned by the Robert Zellmer estate, which plans to sell the land to the village.
The village, in turn, intends to sell land to developers.
However, negotiations between the estate and the village’s Community Development Authority must first resolve contamination concerns, Hofland said.
“The Community Development Authori-ty wants to complete acquisition of the parcel prior to finalizing any decisions with development teams,” he said.
“Evidence of soil contamination is the reason for the delay in the CDA completing negotiations.”
A 2011 village master plan called for commercial redevelopment along Wisconsin Avenue and multifamily housing along Beech Street and the west side of the property.
During the past year, the village has expedited redevelopment efforts by hiring Graef USA Inc. to update the master plan and help attract potential developers, purchasing 2.1 acres for resale to developers, razing buildings and continuing to negotiate with property owners and developers.
The 4.5-acre site, which is largely vacant, is considered a critical part for Grafton’s downtown redevelopment plans because of its potential for generating additional property tax revenue. The redevelopment would also enhance the downtown with new housing and businesses, officials said.
Until late 2013, most of the land had been owned by the late Zellmer, who planned to redevelop the site but abandoned the project. Most of Zellmer’s parcels were acquired by North Shore Bank through foreclosure.
Hofland said the CDA, which is overseeing the redevelopment, was poised to complete the purchase of the Zellmer estate parcel this fall.
“To the surprise of the Robert Zellmer estate and the CDA, an 11th-hour issue was identified,” he said of the soil contamination.
The contamination, Hofland said, was detected in soil samples taken during a check of bedrock conditions at the site. A second study will be done to confirm contamination specifics, including potential clean-up requirements.
Hofland said negotiations between the CDA and Zellmer estate have included liability for cleanup costs, cost-sharing options and applying for state grants to defray expenses.
Past owners of the former lumberyard property, Hofland said, had “performed substantial cleanup work at the site,” and no contamination was found at that time.
Until this fall, the CDA had hoped to purchase the 2.2-acre parcel and finalize a deal with developers in time for construction to begin the first half of next year. That schedule is likely to be delayed, Hofland noted.
“Even so, the CDA is committed to completing this major redevelopment project in downtown Grafton and will continue to work with the property owner,” he said.
Among the parcels purchased by the village was the property that formerly housed Moose’s Service, a longtime Wisconsin Avenue business. That building was razed in 2010.
This year, the village also razed four houses on other land it bought. The lone remaining building at 1517 Wisconsin Ave. houses Little Hands Child Care, which continues to lease space from the village.
“There is no immediate plan to remove the building,” Hofland said. “The CDA will determine if and when it is necessary to give the tenant notice of their need to move.”