By Joe Bachman
WISCONSIN RAPIDS — City officials have tabled the rehabilitation of a property motioned to become a boarding house on Strawberry Ln. at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting.
Located at 2511 Strawberry Ln., the property, owned by William Tesnow, is the former site of a group home that has been vacant for nearly eight years. Speaking on behalf of Tesnow is Wisconsin Rapids based firm Ruesch Companies LLC, who intend to rehabilitate the property into a boarding house with up to 10 rooms.
“There’s a big need out there in the community for things like this,” said Owner of Ruesch Companies LLC Shane Ruesch.
According to Ruesch, those on parole or on probation will have the ability to rent out a bedroom, and will have access to a kitchen, laundry, a living room, and three bathrooms. Each tenant will pay $400 per month with all utilities included, as well as common cable service.
However, the move was met with resistance, as over half a dozen residents in that area were present at the meeting and expressed concerns over a boarding house in the area; including employees at nearby nursing home Strawberry Lane.
“We don’t have any idea of who the clientele are,” said Strawberry Lane Administrator Art Schmitz to members of the commission. “I mean who are we talking about here by ‘parolees’? I’m charged by the State of Wisconsin to protect everybody that comes to my facility for care — I have to know that I can provide that safety and security.”
In addition to security concerns it was noted that Strawberry Lane must leave the doors to their facility unlocked for eight hours a day, which furthered concerns on behalf of employees and residents. Neighbors in the area expressed their own concerns on what could potentially be perceived as troublesome tenants in a building that could house up to 10 people out on parole.
“I’m worried about supervision and stuff going on in the neighborhood,” said concerned Strawberry Ln. resident Jim Carlson. “I’m concerned about property value and what’s going to happen in this place, and if it’s something that is going to be conditional for a family neighborhood.”
Most of the residents who spoke out echoed each other’s sentiments, stating fear of troublemakers and nuisance tenants, as well as the fall of property values in the area to be the most pressing. However, Ruesch pointed out that out five other boarding houses currently exist within the city.
“Just because somebody is on parole doesn’t mean they’ll be outside causing havoc,” said Ruesch. “If you look at the other boarding locations in Wisconsin Rapids they are, for the most part, in residential areas.”
One man who lives in the middle of two group homes, is none other than Mayor Zach Vruwink.
“The one thing that I will share for the neighborhood’s benefit, regardless of what happens tonight going forward, is that there will be a use that is offered for that property that may not be the fit that we’d like to live with,” said Vruwink. “My neighborhood has had a zero-tolerance discussion that we will not tolerate certain activities out of these group homes. When we have a situation, we as neighbors bring those owners to Wisconsin Rapids and we have a discussion.”
Vruwink agreed with other commission members, including Todd Ferkey, that some issues remain for the property, including lack of parking spaces, supervision and surveillance of the area, and density — as 10 rooms for one boarding house is seen as too much by some in the committee. Vruwink pointed out that the city nuisance ordinance is ripe for a situation like this and could be potentially utilized to its strengths.
“I’m very concerned by the fact that we struggle to cite these in our city,” said Vruwink. “What are the conditions that we can expect of the proposed developer to allow this to co-exist? …At the end of day I want to see this property occupied and back in a functional fashion that you as neighbors can say ‘that’s a well taken care of property’.”
The Planning Commission will hold a special meeting on Aug. 22 to hammer out possible conditions to allow the property to be used as a boarding house. However, these conditions and approval must pass through common council, which is slated for Sept. 19.