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County seeks help to market land around the Center

The St. Croix County Finance Committee is asking the County Board for authorization to hire a consultant to develop a process to sell land around the Government Center.

In March an appraiser suggested the county divide the approximately 50 acres of excess land around the building to sell 23 acres for commercial development and 27 acres for residential use. Doing that involves asking the city of Hudson to rezone some of the land.

Last Thursday the Finance Committee met with three representatives of Barsness Consulting Services who presented a proposal to assist the committee and staff through the necessary steps to sell the land.

Hudson officials will rezone the site based on the way they think it should be zoned, but there are a lot of issues and a lot of community interest in the land's use, said Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting. He said the project will take more time than staff is able to devote to it.

Supervisor Daryl Standafer, North Hudson, warned against involving too many "non-owners" in the process.

He said that from a public relations standpoint, he sees the value of involving neighbors in the decision process, "but from a procedural standpoint I also see the pitfalls."

"Neighbors to an area sometimes have an overwrought sense of what they own," said Standafer.

Part of the process is deciding what roles everyone should play, replied Barsness project manager Dennis Welsch. He said the procedure could involve holding a meeting or going out to talk to neighbors.

"I really think the neighborhood is going to have to accept some change," said Welsch. But, he said, the county could mitigate that by offering buffer zones or other amenities.

The county faces a decision on whether it wants to hold, sell or develop the land, and must decide what it wants to accomplish before it moves ahead, said Barsness President Kirstin Barsness.

"It's a great opportunity," she said, adding that the county is in the driver's seat. She said the County Board needs to decide how it's going to proceed, who the decision-makers are and whose input it wants.

"All we want to know is what is the best use of this property going to be, and the process will take care of itself," responded Supervisor Tom Caflisch. He said the county has rights because it owns the land, but the city of Hudson will control the rest.

County supervisors have a clear responsibility to maximize the value of this asset, but would be well advised to list to their constituents, including neighbors to the property, the city of Hudson and other county taxpayers, said Standafer.

The Barsness proposal suggests the work be done in phases, with the county deciding which services it needs. The menu of choices includes:

-- Phase 1 would involve establishing an action plan; helping county officials formulate development goals, policies and strategies; and determining financial objectives. Estimated charge $4,125.

--Phase 2 would involve identifying acceptable land uses, determining how and where roads and utilities would be located and paid for and presenting a recommendation to the County Board. Estimated charge $8,165.

--Phase 3 is the public discussion and hearing stage and would involve taking public input, assisting with legal requirements and notices and preparing a generalized concept land use plan for county and city approval. Estimated charge $6,325.

--Phase 4 would involve working with the committee and staff to develop goals, policies and strategies regarding disposition and new land uses. This will provide the basis for detailed site plans, zoning and requests for bids from private developers. Estimated charge $8,625.

The Barsness proposal will be presented at a County Board meeting, and the Board will be asked to authorize the Finance Committee to enter into an agreement with the company.