MARINETTE — The Marinette Plan Commission moved forward on Wednesday to assist community action agency Newcap Inc. with a long-term plan to redevelop a set of empty lots along Main Street into a work force housing complex. After a public hearing, the commission voted in favor of a conditional use permit to allow Newcap to develop the land into multiple-family residences under its current zoning. 

The three empty 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.

The City of Marinette was approached over a year ago by Newcap, which 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. WPS will be participating in the environmental clean-up of the site, as one of its predecessor companies was involved in the initial contamination.

The Plan Commission and the City Council previously voted 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; to re-zone the parcels from B-3 Community Business District to RM-2 Multiple Family Residential District; and to allow a reduction in parking from 90 spaces to 68, in order to add green space. 

Cheryl Detrick, president and CEO of Newcap, said Wednesday the project was somewhat born out of the City of Marinette’s need for housing. The new building would feature 45 units, some of which would be low- to moderate-income pricing and others at market pricing, and Newcap is in the process of applying for grants in order to help fund the project. 

Site neighbor Mark DeMeuse, of 830 Wells St., said during the public hearing that he was concerned about the planned layout for the three-story building and its parking. 

“We’re talking right there,” he said. “Isn’t there a buffer zone? You’re putting a monstrosity in our backyard.” 

Mayor Steve Genisot explained that the meeting was only to vote on the conditional use permit, and site plans for the building would come before the Plan Commission before construction begins. Detrick added that she expected the plans to be brought to the commission in late summer or early fall, and that Newcap was hoping to have a discussion and feedback period with the community before a final approval. Remediation construction work on the site would begin in fall, and construction of the building would not begin until April 2020. 

“As part of our mission as a community action agency, one of our core missions is to improve and revitalize communities,” she said. “This site works in the revitalize portion of our mission, but the improvement part is important to us as well. This is something we’re going to own for a very long time — we want to be proud of it, we want the city to be proud of it, we want the neighbors to be proud of it as well.” 

Ward 3 Alderman John Marx said the question of parking also concerned him. Detrick said Newcap was looking into additional funding and community partners that would allow the purchase of more land to build a parking structure, but had no set plans. 

“I’m not against the project,” Marx said. “In fact, I’m very much in favor. I think it’s going to really clean up that part of our downtown area, I think it’s going to look very nice. My concern though, is, are we creating a problem that we’re going to have to deal with sometime in the future? If we do, we should have a backup plan now for what we do with excessive parking.” 

Overall, the commission approved the conditional use permit. Commissioners Steve Lang and Tom Crowley were not present and did not vote.