Talks on Emerson lot future slated for Monday

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By Brandi Makuski

Creating space for much-needed single-family homes is one possibility for the future land use at the former Emerson School lot.

Ald. Jeremy Slowsinski of District 6 says the new development would spur some growth in the city’s tax base and help offset costs Stevens Point would take on to maintain the new city park.

“Parks are great for the city; we have a lot of parks, but we have enough parks,” Slowsinski said. “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.”

(Courtesy Jeremy Slowinski)

Slowinski, former council president who has been serving the 6th District since 2006, said 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 has a background in civil engineering and pointed out the city’s recent housing study underlines the need for infill of vacant lots, and for additional single family homes. Both points mark liabilities for city growth, he said.

Known by residents in the area as Emerson Park, the block 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 resident of the neighborhood, Mike Bialas, co-founder of the Friends of Emerson Park, says his own children now play on a lot of the same park equipment, still installed on the former school’s playground area, that he did back in the 1970s.

The grassroots organization was born in 2016 after it appeared the property could return to city ownership, Bialas said. The group has spent time conducting neighborhood surveys and considering future use for the park, which includes grading, landscaping and updated park equipment, and is against any development there.

“I don’t think it’s the best use of the land,” he said. “I think it should remain a park, but I’m just one person. I think it’s up to the [city] council.”

In a memo to the city council dated May 16, Mayor Mike Wiza said he’s not advocating for any particular option, but he laid out several points leaning towards fiscal stewardship.

“The park will have additional costs associated with it including staff and capital [expense],” Wiza’s memo read in part. “The council has made it clear that any new development should generate revenue to pay for the additional costs of roads, utilities, emergency services, etc. If that is still your wish, now would be the time to make those decisions on this parcel.”

“We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t point out the possibility of offsetting those costs by developing part of the site and using the additional revenue to offset the additional costs incurred with a park,” he added.

Slowinski said under his proposal, which is up for discussion on Monday, 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.

“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.”

Options will be discussed at Monday’s 7 p.m. city council meeting, held in the Branch II courtroom of the courthouse, 1516 Church St.