By Brandi Makuski
One city alderman says there’s potential in selling a portion of soon-to-be-acquired city land for the construction of single family homes—and a way to recoup some of the city’s costs related to the transaction.
Councilman Jeremy Slowinski was reelected to his seat after running unopposed on April 3, and has been representing the city’s 6th District since 2006. He wants the city council to consider multiple ideas for the former Emerson School lot on the 1400 block of East Ave., to include parceling off four .20 acre lots designed for single family home construction on the block’s south side.
Slowinski, who is also a former Council President, has a background in civil engineering and pointed out the city’s recent housing study underline the need for infill of vacant lots, and for additional single family homes. Both points mark liabilities for city growth, he said.
“Parks are great for the city; we have a lot of parks, but we have enough parks,” Slowsinski said on Friday. “Parks cost money for the city to maintain, and with very few exceptions, they don’t bring any money in. They don’t pay for themselves.”
Known by residents in the area as Emerson Park, the space was home to the city’s first high school, and later an elementary school, prior to its demolition in 2002. The vacant lot has been used as a playground and sports area by those who live nearby.
One of those neighborhood residents, Mike Bialas, co-founded the Friends of Emerson Park in 2016; a grassroots organization intending to create a neighborhood park on the lot once it becomes city property. The group has spent time conducting neighborhood surveys and considering future use for the park, which includes grading, landscaping and updated park equipment.
Bialas said he grew up playing on “a lot of the same playground equipment back in the ’70s that’s still there today,” and he’s not in favor of any development there.
“I don’t think it’s the best use of the land,” Bialas said by phone on Saturday. “I think it should remain a park, but I’m just one person. I think it’s up to the [city] council.”
Prior to 1981, the city owned the Emerson lot, as well as all local public school buildings and land, until schools were unified under the state-operated district, forfeiting city control. During the land transfer, the city sold the land to the district for $1. A deal to purchase the land back from the district is pending.
Slowinski said under his proposal, which he plans to bring to committee sometime over the next few months, the city would recoup some of its $40,000 offer on the land, and increase its tax base, by selling the lots for new single family home development. Profits from the land sales, he said, could be used for updating Emerson Park on the remaining 53,000 square feet of land.
He’s informally discussed the idea with others on the city’s park commission, and he said so far the reaction has been positive.
“This is being purchased with taxpayer dollars,” Slowinski said. “There’s no reason why other ideas shouldn’t be brought to the table. I realize I’m probably in the minority, but the way I see it is, I represent my district but also the entire city.”
The lot is part of the city’s Historic District, meaning any development there would likely need approval of the Historic Preservation/Design Review Committee.
*This story is developing.