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Janesville gas station gets reprieve from demolition

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Neil Johnson
August 25, 2014

JANESVILLE—The city-owned former gas station on South Franklin Street got a reprieve from demolition Monday night, but the heat is on for a group proposing to save it.

In a 4-3 vote, the Janesville City Council voted to give a group seeking to fix the property and turn it into a classic auto museum 12 months to solidify the effort and four months to give the city a viable plan. If those benchmarks aren't met, the gas station likely will be demolished.

The move eschewed a recommendation by city staff to tear down the circa-1930 Standard Oil Station property at 101 S. Franklin St. Staff wants the building cleared for future expansion of the Janesville police headquarters, and to eliminate blight near downtown.

Under a motion by council member Doug Marklein, the council is allowing the group, Friends of Franklin Street Service Station, to drum up a plan and a “letter of intent,” including a financial plan to renovate the building and reuse it.

The council tied clauses to the motion that it won't help fund the project, and if the group can't forward a viable plan to the council by the end of the year, the city would move forward with demolishing the property.

The property needs $90,000 in repairs just to shore up its roof, and it could cost $250,000 to $290,000 to renovate the property for reuse, according to city estimates. The police department has no immediate plans to use the building or to expand. 

The council's decision came after about 25 residents who are members of the Friends of Franklin Street Service Station turned out to plead their case.

Tom Skinner, an auto enthusiast and part of the group, said the Friends want to turn the station into an auto museum that would highlight the city's past as a former General Motors town.

While the group just organized in the last few weeks, it has members who have worked with the city to renovate Oak Hill Chapel and save it from demolition.

Those members believe they can work with the city to get historic designation for the property, which Skinner said could fuel grant funding.

Skinner said the group is prepared to launch a fundraising effort now. Other members have a Facebook page running for the plan and are working to launch a website.

Council members Douglas Marklein, Matt Kealy, Brian Fitzgerald and Sam Liebert supported a year reprieve on demolishing the building.

“Give them a year,” Marklein said, although he said the group shouldn't “plan on very much city contributions” to staff the property or pay for the work.

He said the most the council should be willing to OK is a “reasonable” lease to the group.

Building and Development Services Manager Gale Price cautioned the council to remember the future police station expansion, even though it could be 10 or more years away.

Price said the police station could be expanded to the north instead of the east, where the gas station now stands. However, that would involve, at the very least, moving existing electrical and gas utilities. Costs for that could add about $70,000 to any expansion project.

Some council members seem to be running out of patience for the old building.

Council President DuWayne Severson and council members Mark Bobzien and Jim Farrell voted against giving the group time to save the building.

Severson said he believes delaying demolition is just kicking the can on the issue. He said other groups have lobbied hard to save the station in the past, but their efforts to find another use for it have fizzled.

“I'm concerned we wait another twelve months we're going to be back in the same situation. It's going to be an issue again,” he said.

Also on Monday, the council:

-- Voted 6-1 to approve a resolution placing a referendum on the November ballot asking taxpayers to allow the city to exceed state-imposed revenue limits by $1.2 million per year for city street improvements.

The council amended the sunset clause on the referendum from 10 years to five years. Some council members said a five-year referendum could be more palatable to voters than a 10-year plan.   

-- Took no action on two direct legislation petitions submitted by resident Billy McCoy which seek to delay plans to build a new Milton Avenue fire station and to force voter referendums on city projects costing more than $2 million. The petitions have clauses that would place both on the ballot as referendums.

Council members in discussion Monday unanimously said they would not support either petition. City attorney Wald Klimczyk last week issued an opinion stating the petitions were invalid.

According to state statute, the council has until Sept. 14 to take any action on the petitions.



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