MARINETTE — The Marinette Plan Commission took the first steps on Wednesday to redeveloping a set of empty lots along Main Street, with the help of community action agency NEWCAP Inc., into a work force housing complex

City Attorney Jonathan Sbar explained to the commission on Wednesday that the three parcels under discussion — the former “Colonial Building property” at 1529-1533 Main St., the former “Contamone LLC property” at 1531 Main St. and the former “Bay Area Medical Center parking lot property” at 1515 Main St. — were designated by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) as contaminated after years of industrial use. As such, the city cannot use the lots unless they undergo a costly decontamination process

“It’s an eyesore,” he said. “We have an opportunity here to do a redevelopment of the site.” 

Sbar said the city was approached by NEWCAP, who was interested in developing the land to add to local housing options. NEWCAP’s project is backed by a number of agencies and businesses, including Wisconsin Public Service (WPS), Covantage Credit Union, the Wisconsin Economic Development Association (WEDA), the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) and the DNR, and is seeking to apply for grants to help with the redevelopment. 

“Our friends at (Wisconsin) Public Service are stepping up to the plate and they are going to participate in the environmental clean-up of this site, which is a very positive development because this is expensive,” Sbar said. “We’ve done a lot on this and we would love so much to get this thing from being an eyesore to being something nice that would enhance the community.” 

Cheryl Detrick, President and CEO of NEWCAP, said the project was somewhat born out of the City of Marinette’s need for housing. 

“In talking with our business partners, we know that housing is a tremendous issue. It’s a stumbling block for businesses trying to expand and start up,” she said. “Our plan here is to put in about 45 units. They would be some one (bedroom), but mostly two-bedrooms and some three-bedroom units, it would be three stories and would be a mixed-use development, work force housing with some low- and moderate-income and some market rate housing.” 

Detrick said NEWCAP had had conversations with Fincantieri Marinette Marine, which viewed the project as beneficial for its work force due to its proximity to the ship yard. She added that downtown businesses would benefit from the project because of the close walking distance for residents. 

“The stars are somewhat aligning on this,” she said of NEWCAP’s financial backers. 

Ward 3 Alderman John Marx asked if a rendering of the building was available for review. Detrick said she did not yet have a rendering from the construction firm, the Boldt Company, but said the site plans would have to come back to the commission for approval anyway. 

Randy Burtts, who owns and manages Randy’s Rentals at 1541 Main St., said he was concerned about the lack of parking on Main Street already, and the lack of enforcement of the two-hour parking zones along the street. 

“If you’re going to re-zone this you’ll have more people parking on the street,” he said. 

Detrick said that the building plan will include on-site parking, and that the amount of spaces has yet to be determined. Mayor Steve Genisot added that the Marinette Police Department could be contacted about parking complaints. 

Bill Bourgeois, 1507 Main St., said he hoped the empty lot could have been developed into parking lots for downtown businesses. Kathy Weber, owner of Top Dog Pet Spa LLC at 1509 Main St., said she would like to see the lot blocked off if it is contaminated and should not be driven or parked on. 

Marx asked if conditional use for the lots’ current zoning could be implemented instead of a full zoning change, but Genisot and Detrick said that would open up all B-3 Community Business Districts in the city for possible housing locations, and that some of the project’s backers would not support a conditional use permit. 

After some discussion, the Plan Commission voted unanimously in favor of recommendations to convey the three parcels to NEWCAP for remediation and redevelopment; to amend the 2020 Comprehensive Plan General Design Map to change the parcel from “Downtown Commercial” to “High Density/Multi-Family” designation; and to re-zone the parcels from B-3 Community Business District to RM-2 Multiple Family Residential District. The recommendations will go to the City Council for final review after a public hearing on the topic prior to the council’s June 5 meeting.