Janesville City Council nixes rebuild request

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009
— Most council members on Monday said it was only a matter of time before Joseph Street is under water again and voted, 5-1, to deny a property owner the right to rebuild in the Mole & Sadler's subdivision along the Rock River.

"I've seen that area for the last 30-plus years, time and time again, flood out … and it's a never-ending battle," council member Russ Steeber said. "It will never be won by the property owners. I think it's just a matter of time (before there's) another big flood and we're back to square one."

Turning the area into green space is the best option and will not result in first responders being put in jeopardy, he said.

The owner of 1709 Joseph St.—Alice Walhovd—had applied for a building permit to rebuild the home.

The property was "substantially damaged" from the 2008 flood and so must meet certain criteria. The owner must raise the house by 4 feet—2 feet higher than the 100-year flood mark—and meet other floodplain building requirements.

The state also requires the city create an emergency plan because the home's only access is onto Joseph Street, which is in the floodway. Several of the properties along Joseph Street would require emergency plans to rebuild because they have one access onto Joseph Street, which was under water in 2008.

The plan would guarantee the city could provide emergency services during a flood. It would include a warning system; spell out the responsibilities of such agencies as police, fire and human services; and specify when residents could return to their homes. It also would require mandatory evacuations—something the council declined to do in 2008.

Council members struggled with the rights of the property owner versus the rights of the community. They said an emergency plan would encourage property owners to rebuild in places that will continue to flood.

Council member Yuri Rashkin said on one hand, he weighed the rights of the resident to rebuild.

"On the other hand, the city is bending over backwards, spending all kinds of money to create a situation where it's going to be flooded again and again and again."

Council member Tom McDonald said he was concerned about the staff time that would be spent creating the emergency plan, the forced evacuation and putting first responders at risk.

"Frankly, I don't understand why someone would want to build in a floodplain," he said. "I don't think it's wise to build in a floodplain. This floods year after year after year."

Council member George Brunner said it's a fine line between someone's property rights and the city's responsibility to make someone safe and secure in their homes.

Bill Truman was the only council member who voted to create the emergency plan. He said the homeowner had lived there for many years and should be allowed to stay if she can build the home to meet the needed criteria.

Council member Kathy Voskuil was absent.

Fifteen properties were declared "substantially damaged" in 2008. Eleven are in the Mole & Sadler's subdivision. The state and city are in the process of offering the residents buyouts so the property can revert to green space.

Walhovd is the only resident who has at this point said she would rebuild no matter what buyout offer she gets.

Residents who participate in the grant program are paid based on an appraisal of their home's pre-flood property value. They also are eligible for relocation benefits.

Others are waiting to see what the state will offer, Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood services director, said.

Last updated: 11:04 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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