Polluted soil stalls plans to develop Grafton site
Village poised to partner with developer when site is ready

By Laurie Arendt - News Graphic Correspondent

Jan. 13, 2015

GRAFTON — The village of Grafton’s decade-long effort to acquire all of the parcels in the 4.52-acre downtown redevelopment site is nearing the proverbial finish line. Yet, there is one final hurdle to overcome: unexpected contamination issues in the final parcel at 1505 Wisconsin Ave.

“As part of the village’s due diligence in acquiring the final 2.2 acres, the village hired an environmental firm to conduct soil borings,” said Village Administrator Darrell Hofland.

The soil borings were actually conducted to assess the existing bedrock shelf that runs underground through this area of downtown Grafton. This shelf has required developers to modify their designs to accommodate it. For example, the design of the adjacent Heritage condominium project slightly elevated the first floor to accommodate parking below.

“A similar approach will need to be used for this site,” said Hofland.

According to Hofland, the bedrock in the redevelopment site does have some shallow areas.

“This type of bedrock can also be scraped in lieu of other more extensive methods that have to be used,” he said.

Beyond the bedrock analysis, the borings also identified two unexpected points of contamination on the remaining site, which is owned by the estate of Robert Zellmer.

“At this point, it’s not known what caused the contamination at these two detects,” Hofland said. “We don’t know if they are original to the site or were brought in as part of the fill process to increase the grade and level the site.”

The village has long identified this parcel for redevelopment and created a concept plan for the site, which was updated in 2014. The village worked with Graef USA Inc. for the update and solicited feedback on the site’s potential for redevelopment. The concept plan calls for a mixed-used site, with space for housing and commercial/business use.

Zellmer also owned five of the other parcels eventually purchased by the village of Grafton, but all of those had gone into foreclosure when the village purchased them between 2013 and 2014. All of the parcels are now vacant except for one, which is leased to a day care facility.

“The site is viable for redevelopment, and the Community Development Authority has received proposals, which CDA members are still analyzing,” Hofland said.

He is optimistic that the contamination on the site can be mitigated, and the Zellmer property can still be purchased by the village. At the December CDA meeting, members discussed eminent domain strategies to acquire the property, but tabled the discussion with no motion.

“In redeveloping downtown Grafton, the CDA has limited experience with eminent domain,” said Hofland. “In this specific situation, the owner of the property is a willing seller. The CDA is hopeful that negotiations will be successful. If the CDA and the seller are unable to come to an agreement on price, then the eminent domain process functions like a third party arbitration to make the decision on price.”

He added that the unknowns of the contamination issue have increased the complexity of determining the real value of the property.

If the CDA is able to obtain the property, the village hopes to partner with a developer in the near future and break ground on construction in summer 2015.