What next for fire station neighbors?

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Marcia Nelesen
Monday, April 21, 2014

JANESVILLE--Some city residents at a recent Janesville City Council public hearing expressed deep sympathy for residents losing their homes to make way for a new fire station.

One woman said she was so distressed that she didn't know of anything she could do except pray for them.

City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said the city is required by state law to make sure the residents end up in comparable or better situations than the homes they are leaving.

That should mean the family who feared it couldn't afford another home would be able to buy one, and the woman who predicted she would end up in assisted living would not, Klimczyk said.

The city will buy 12 homes north and west of the current station and relocate the people living in the properties.

The city council has OK'd building a $9.5 million station just north of the current station at 303 Milton Ave. The city has set aside $1.5 million to buy the properties and relocate the residents.

The city already has an offer pending on an historic structure at 327 Milton Ave. The city is considering moving the home but will have to work with the state historical society to dispose of the structure.

Klimczyk answered other questions about the process:

Q: What's next for the homeowners and renters whose homes will be demolished or moved for the fire station?

A: Judy Adler, a former city employee, was hired to work part time to head the process of relocating the neighbors. She is getting appraisals on the homes, which will determine their fair market values.

Residents are allowed to get their own appraisals, and the city will pay for those appraisals if the residents share the results with the city.

Adler also will research the value of comparable properties for sale, considering square footage, amenities and conditions.

Q: Why comparable properties?

A: “You try to find what would be similar to what the person already has,” Klimczyk said.

The goal is to make it possible for a homeowner to move into comparable housing. Special mortgages and improvements will be taken into account, for example.

Residents are not required to move into the comparable housing, however, Klimczyk said.

Statutes allow a differential payment to “make the resident whole, put them in as close as possible to the situation (they are in), if not better,” he said.

The city will negotiate with each resident on a case-by-case basis.

“We want to treat the property owners fairly,” Klimczyk said.

“We'll be looking to make it a little better than they were, within reason,” Klimczyk said.

Q: What about moving costs?

A: All moving expenses will be paid. If residents choose to move themselves, they can pocket the money tax free. The city also will pay for such expenses as disconnecting and reconnecting utilities.

Q: What is the timeline?

A: The city initially had hoped to start construction in 2014, but Klimczyk doubted that would happen. Residents can stay in the homes 90 days after closing. Residents also have the right to rent from the city.

Q: What if residents are not happy with final offers?

A: Residents can appeal in Rock County Court if no agreement can be reached.

The city has worked with numerous residents and business through the years, the most recent being Adams & Sons Roofing, Klimczyk said.

Klimczyk said only one such case has gone to court in 50 years.

Q: Could the city move any of the homes if the homeowners wish or to keep the material out of the landfill?

A: That would be discussed only if it is the homeowner's preference, Klimczyk said.

Q: What's next?

A: The appraisal and relocation plans are being written and will be submitted to the state Department of Administration for approval.

After the plans are approved and some or all of the appraisals complete, the city will begin making offers to purchase, Adler said in an email. Adler predicts that will happen in mid- to late-May.

Negotiations then would begin with the owners, who have 60 days to get their own appraisals.

The city tentatively plans to begin demolishing homes in late fall or early winter, but that depends on negotiations and the ability of the occupants to find new housing.

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