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Janesville buying homes for fire station project

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Neil Johnson
June 30, 2014

JANESVILLE--The city of Janesville is moving forward with buying homes that lie in the footprint of the planned fire station along Milton Avenue.

The city late last week had closed on three of the 12 homes along Milton and Prospect avenues that the city plans to remove—including a historic home at 327 Milton Avenue and two other homes along Milton Avenue.

The buyouts are part of early planning for the proposed $9.5 million fire station project. The new station is planned to replace Fire Station No. 1, which is located just to the north at 303 Milton Ave.

The city council in April approved a staff recommendation to build the fire station at the site along Milton Avenue. The city had earmarked $1.5 million for property acquisition and relocation.

City Attorney Wald Klimczyk, who has been working with owners on the buyouts, reports the city so far has closed on:

-- A home at 321 Milton Ave owned by John and Grace Sage. The city is paying $101,853 for the property. The home is assessed at $90,600, according to city records.

-- A home at 339 Milton Ave. owned by Rebecca Carlson. The city is paying $118,049 for the property, which records show is assessed at $71,300.

-- A vacant, historic home at 327 Milton Ave. owned by Fannie Mae mortgage company. The city is paying $66,000 for the home, which records show is assessed at $89,100.

The city's costs include closing costs and title cleanup but not relocation costs. Under city rules, owners who live in the homes are eligible for up to $25,000 in relocation payments, Klimczyk said.

Those payouts cover property inspections, moving costs and any repairs necessary to bring owners' new homes up to city codes.

Klimczyk said owners who've negotiated buyouts so far have been “satisfied,” and so far none have ordered appraisals for the closings. He said the buyouts have factored in upgrades to the houses, including new roofs and recent remodeling.

“We're doing what the city council has authorized, which was to make it (the closings) happen, to be generous within reason and to make the (relocated) owners whole,” Klimczyk said.

City spokeswoman Maggie Hrdlicka said the city could close on two more homes this week and on two additional homes by the end of July. She said the city's goal is to close on all remaining properties by August or September.

Public Works Director Paul Woodard says the city hopes to break ground on the fire station in spring 2015.

Owners will have 90 days from the time of closings to vacate the houses. They'll be demolished or, in some cases, potentially relocated to other sites, Woodard said.

“We're hoping to put some homes up for bid for people who could want to move them to another location. If that doesn't work, we'd put them out for bid to demolish them. The idea is to have a clear slate by April,” Woodard said.

He said the city does not plan to undertake costs to move any of the properties, and any demolitions could move forward in late fall or early winter this year.

Meanwhile, Woodard said, engineering consultants have begun to survey the proposed fire station site. He said consultants plan to begin soil testing there in the coming weeks.

Woodard said the city will submit results of site tests to an ad hoc fire station building committee by late August, and design work on the project could be completed by the end of the year.

The city is moving forward on its plans amid an effort by resident Billy McCoy to raise petitions he believes could halt the fire station project, which he says he and other residents oppose because of costs, the proposed location and the fact that the council made key decisions on the plan in closed meetings.

McCoy is circulating two direct legislation petitions he registered with the city and the state on June 6.

One petition seeks to force the council to vote to delay the fire station project pending a binding referendum through which voters could choose whether to OK or shoot down the project based on its cost and location.

The city's legal counsel has said that petition is invalid because, under state law, direct legislation cannot be used to roll back an administrative city council decision.

The other petition asks the council to establish a charter ordinance that would require a binding voter referendum to approve any city capital project in excess of $2 million.

Both petitions are written with provisions that aim to place them as voter referendums on a ballot if the council doesn't act on them.

McCoy has said he hopes to file the petitions for council review in August, and he wants to  get one or both petitions placed on the November ballot.



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