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County land appraised at $6.6 million

An appraiser says St. Croix County could sell 50 acres of excess land around the Government Center in Hudson for $6.6 million.

Jeff White of Valuation Specialists, who reported to the Finance Committee Thursday, suggested the county divide the land to sell 23 acres for commercial development and the other 27 for residential development. He recommended surveying the parcels and rezoning them before putting them up for sale.

"This, in our mind, is a great property," said White. He pointed out the land is on city utilities and close to the YMCA and schools.

White recommended interviewing potential developers to make sure the land is sold to someone who has "the ability and vision to do it right."

He said his charge was to value the property and look at its highest and best use. Selling it all as residential property would bring about $3.7 million, but selling part as commercial land would greatly increase the price, said White.

He also suggested dividing the commercial property into two parcels, one on each side of a strip of low land, and selling the two separately.

The Government Center sits on 64 acres. Several years ago a consultant was hired to determine how much of the land would be needed for expansion. The county has been approached by several groups interested in buying parts of the excess land but has not seriously considered those requests.

"I think some people think this is a park and is never going to be developed," said White of the way part of the land has been used by neighbors.

"You're going to get friction as soon as you put the word out you're thinking of developing the land," he said. White suggested the residential property be developed in multi-family housing just west of the Government Center, transitioning to homes or duplexes and then to single-family houses on the far end of the property.

The commercial property would be south of the Government Center and would have access from Vine Street.

White said Hudson city officials seem receptive to seeing the land developed and rezoned before marketing the land to make it more attractive to commercial developers.

"As a 31-member County Board, we are not quick on our feet to make decisions," observed County Board Chairman Buck Malick. He said it would be easier and faster to get enough supervisors to agree to sell the land as one parcel instead of getting them to agree on each step needed to divide the land and market it that way.

"I think it's politically a little more practical to sell the whole thing and let the developer make the decisions," said Malick.

Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting suggested the County Board needs to think about its position on this issue: "How much does it want to know about what will happen (to the land) after it sells."

Even if the development is ideal, some people will complain, warned White. "That's just something you'll have to deal with."

"I personally will try to minimize our involvement in development activity," said Supervisor Daryl Standafer. He said the only involvement appropriate for the county is to recognize areas that should be developed for either commercial or residential uses.

Trying to micromanage development opens the county to controversy and reduces the attractiveness the property would have for developers, said Standafer.

The board needs to be looking out for taxpayers in all parts of the county and shouldn't balk at going through a couple extra steps to raise the sale price of parts of the land from $70,000 to $130,000 an acre, said Supervisor Stan Krueger.

White will present his report to the full County Board when it meets March 21.