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Inventory assesses Janesville site needs

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Marcia Nelesen
October 6, 2012

— What parts of Janesville are most in need of makeovers, blight removal, contamination clean-up or redevelopment?

City staff, the Janesville Downtown Revitalization Committee and city residents have been working to make an inventory of those sites since the city received a $400,000 federal assessment grant.

The money was used to hire a consultant to help. Such studies are required to apply for other grants, said Al Hulick, management analyst for the city.

“Without knowing the information up front, there is no funding source available,” Hulick said.

The 12 areas identified as needing the most help are:

-- The North Main Street corridor in the area of Adams & Sons Roofing.

-- The site of a former gasification plant on the east side of Main Street north Traxler Park. The site, owned by Alliant Energy, is heavily contaminated. Its location near Traxler Park makes it attractive to the city.

-- The property just north of City Hall and the police station.

-- The former Accudyne property on North Franklin Street.

-- River Street near Central Vending, just north of Ace Hardware.

-- The block on the corner of Court and River streets, near Enginaire.

-- The Plaza Furniture building at 55 S. River St.

-- The block around Chase Bank, 11 W. Milwaukee St. The bank uses only about one-quarter of the building, which would be good for redevelopment.

-- General Motors and the former JATCO property.

-- The area around Marling Lumber, 634 S. River St.

-- The area around the Schlueter Co., 112 E. Centerway, across from Adams & Sons Roofing. Janesville’s various downtown plans call for the building to be redeveloped.

-- The area around the former Robinson’s Cleaners, now Aramark, 310 W. Centerway.

At an open house, residents told city staff they generally want the areas economically developed and put back on the tax rolls.

Plaza Furniture, 55 S. River St., is the first property to be purchased under the new initiative.

In the past, the city took an incremental approach to brownfield identification and remediation, Hulick said. Properties often were simply purchased when they became available.

That was a bad approach and opened the city to liability if environmental contaminants were found and the city didn’t do its due diligence, Hulick said.

In addition, the city now knows where to focus its resources.

The property at 55 S. River St., for instance, was a gas station in the 1950s. The city will buy the property for $290,000 plus closing costs contingent on an environmental study.

The city has earned a local government liability exemption because it will do the groundwork before it purchases the building, he said.

Hulick said it is important to look at entire areas to redevelop successfully.

For instance, Adams Roofing is in a floodplain, so any redevelopment effort must include the surrounding area, as well.

The Aramark property by itself is too narrow, and access is terrible.

“We’re never going to solve the GM problem through this grant … we’re not going to be able to solve the Monterey (Hotel) … But we need to start making some progress, to bring some things from plans into reality,” Hulick said.

“We’re trying to get people excited,” he said.

The city will host more meetings on the topic with residents in the future, Hulick said.

Comments sought on health issues

The city of Janesville and the Rock County Health Department are spearheading a program geared to protecting public health and the environment by removing blight and cleaning up brownfield sites.

Brownfield sites are properties that are contaminated or have the potential to be contaminated with hazardous substances because of past or current uses.

The health department received $148,433 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The goal is to reduce exposure to contaminants and improve health as the city continues redevelopment work, said Terry Nolan, associate planner for the city.

An open house is planned for residents Tuesday.

“It’s really about making sure community health is part of that planning. We want them (residents) to tell us, basically, what issues in the community are impacting their health,” Nolan said.

That includes not only blighted buildings and lead contamination but also whether the city has enough bike trails and recreation opportunities, affordable housing, entertainment venues and public art, for instance, Nolan said.

Nolan considers those “quality of life” issues.

During the open house, residents can view redevelopment plans and vote on their favorites.

“The success of our efforts will not only be measured in the number of brownfield sites identified and assessed but also in how the city can address environmental and social injustices that may be related to brownfield sites in our community,” Nolan said.

Some health issues that can be related to brownfield redevelopment include:

-- Lead poisoning in children who live in older housing.

-- Poor physical fitness because of limited opportunities for recreation within walking distance.

-- Exposure to toxic chemicals from old industrial sites.

Redevelopment actions to address the issues might include:

-- Adding affordable downtown housing.

-- Adding sidewalks to make neighborhoods more walkable.

-- Creating access points to the Rock River and adding parks downtown.

-- Improving Rock River water quality.

-- Fixing and reusing rundown properties.



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