River News file photo
Rhinelander’s Holmboe Conifer Forest is a 32-acre nature preserve located along the Pelican River near the former Taylor Park nursing home. It has been maintained as a preserve since 1965 and is overseen by the Northwoods Land Trust. The property was donated by photographer Frithjof Holmboe.
4/13/2017 7:30:00 AM City Council approves CUP for Taylor Park project Approval contingent on continued public access to Holmboe Nature Preserve
The Rhinelander City Council approved a conditional use permit (CUP) Monday requested by a developer hoping to transform the former Taylor Park Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, 903 Boyce Drive, into a mix of offices, restaurants and student/young adult housing.
The CUP was approved contingent on the public access trail to the 34-acre Holmboe Conifer Forest State Natural Area remaining open.
The CUP request, along with a zoning change, was approved by the planning commission on March 22. Only the CUP was on the council agenda Monday, however. The request was made by Dwight Webb as the agent for Rhinelander Acquisition Group, LLC, care of Midwest Property Tax Association of Lewis Center, Ohio.
Fire chief and building inspector Terry Williams said it is Webb's intention to use part of the property for dorm rooms for college students while other portions of the building would be converted into office space. He also said that the commercial kitchen could be leased to a catering business and the gym converted into a fitness business.
The property was rezoned in December 2015 to B-3 in anticipation of an autism treatment, day care and preschool facility being located there. Williams told the planning commission the plans for that facility fell through, but the rezoning process had already been approved.
As part of the consent agenda early in the meeting, the council approved rezoning the property CB, community building district, to accommodate the new project.
Since the commission voted to recommend approval of the CUP, Williams said interim city attorney Keith Kost discussed the issue of access to the natural area with Webb.
Alderman Alex Young said that when a previous potential buyer learned of the access agreement, "he had no problem with it." He said while there is the possibility that the access point can be moved to a different location, that isn't certain.
"I think that it would be in the city's best interests for the access to that natural area remain," Young said. "Consequently, I think it would be in our best interest if we include that as a condition of the conditional use permit that the existing access outlined in that agreement is maintained until such time as a new agreement is reached, if there is."
Young then moved to approve the CUP request with that condition included. His motion was seconded by Mark Pelletier.
Webb then addressed the council on his objections to the access trail's close proximity to the building.
"The main use of the property will be for student hosting, and the one concern that I have is for the security and safety and privacy of students living there," Webb said, adding that he has been talking with a contact with the Northwoods Land Trust, which oversees the Holmboe property, and with Musson Brothers on moving the access point.
"This whole project is moving really fast," he explained. "It's time-sensitive in that students could be moving in possibly this summer, for sure this fall. I don't want to allow that access in the back for safety, privacy and security of the students living there."
He stressed that he doesn't have an issue with the trail but just wants to find a different access point.
"Just not through the back of the property," he said. "If you've ever been back there, it's very close to the back yard. It would be letting someone walk through your backyard."
Webb said he had hoped to have a concrete solution worked out before the meeting, but he is determined to find an alternative access point even if that means he has to purchase a portion of the Musson Brother's property on the southeast corner or obtain an easement to make that possible.
"One way or another, there will be an access to the back?" asked mayor Dick Johns.
"Yes," Webb replied.
Young asked if Webb was seeking the CUP without the access to the natural area, and that if that happens, he would stop allowing access once the students started moving in.
"Because that is exactly what I'm trying to stop, I want to maintain the existing access until you do come up with that new situation," Young said. "I understand your concerns and your point. I don't want to lose access to that in the meantime."
Webb expressed concern that if he cannot work out an alternative access point, having people in the back of his property could create a safety and liability issue.
"I guess a compromise would be through the summer until students get here in the fall," Webb said.
Alderperson Dawn Rog said she too has a concern about losing the access to the trails because a lot of people come to the Rhinelander area to enjoy outdoor recreation.
"If they come here and they see there is no access, they are going to think that trail is now gone," Rog said.
She suggested that Webb might be able to install either natural or artificial fencing to protect the privacy of the people renting dorm space.
"I think it's pretty important that we have to leave that access for the public to get back there for this to go through as a conditional use," she said. "How can you cut out something that the public has had for a long, long time and it has been a gift to the city?"
The 32-acre site was donated by photographer Frithjof Holmboe in the 1960s.
Webb agreed that the natural area is a great asset for the city, but the safety concerns of the students is his primary concern.
"If I'm a parent, and I want my son or daughter to leave to go to housing facility and I realize there is public access, ultimately right through the backyard, for anyone to go back there, it might cause a little bit of concern," he said. "Not that there is a lot of crazy stuff happening in Rhinelander."
"I think that is something that parents realize when they send their children to school in the big cities, and they live in the dorms, they are right there in peril. They have people driving up in cars," Rog said. "They'll be fine. I don't think we have any safety concerns with the people who go back there."
Young added that he supports what Webb is trying to do in bringing life to a building that has sat vacant for a long time, but that doesn't outweigh the positive benefits the natural area brings to the city.
"I just think it is in the city's best interests to maintain access to a property that was donated to the city for that purpose," he added.
The motion to grant the CUP, with the access maintained until an alternative can be worked out, was unanimously approved.
Jamie Taylor may be reached at jamie@rivernews online.com.
Posted: Thursday, April 13, 2017
Article comment by:
I would not be concerned with the public access to the park where is currently. I would be more concerned with the fact that there would be young adults living together in dorms right next to the State Natural Area. This is a small area and these "kids" will venture in there and more than likely litter, party, and loiter in the area. This will (in my opinion) destroy the area, scare away the wild life and deter most people from going there. I do like the idea of student housing in Rhinelander I just personally wish there was a different location available. However, Rhinelander is a small community and this building is ideal, so it will have to do. I just hope the area stays clean and quiet, but I don't think it will happen. sorry. Hoping for the best!!
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