Future clearer for contaminated Amcast site
Area could be used for housing and commercial purposes

By Alison Henderson - News Graphic Staff

August 31, 2017

 An aeriel view of the Amcast plant shows a giant hole in the roof. The hole has allowed rain water to seep into the building for at least four years.
Photo by Nick Pelant

CEDARBURG — If all goes according to plan, a $3.3 million city contribution will help facilitate the cleanup and redevelopment of the blighted Amcast site that has sat vacant on Hamilton Road for more than a decade.

Formerly home to an aluminum die-casting factory, the property is contaminated with asbestos, lead-based paint, PCBs and other volatile organic materials, according to a statement in the developer’s agreement. It is part of a larger superfund site on the EPA’s National Priorities List.

The parcels on the property are each assessed at $200 and have an existing tax delinquency of more than $200,000.

After years of discussions, the Common Council approved an agreement Monday with local developer Oliver Fiontar LLC that aims to bring $10 million in value to the 8-acre property. The deal still needs final approval from the city’s Community Development Authority and hinges on creating a new tax incremental financing district, which would require a public hearing, a resolution by the council and approval from the Joint Review Board.

A TIF district allows the city to borrow money for infrastructure improvements that would otherwise be delayed or not occur. Increased tax revenue generated by the improvement is then used to repay the loan.

City officials said TIF No. 4 would add an estimated $74 in taxes to an average household during the first year, though that amount would decrease over its lifetime.

The developer, DJ Burns III, is also involved with the environmental consulting firm Drake Consulting Group. The Cedarburg resident said he has been following the property’s activity since 2009 and thinks he’s the best person for the job.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am at the prospect of this. I’ve done a few other projects of this size, but never in my home community,” he said about the private-public partnership. “We came up with a very creative plan to eliminate blight, create jobs during construction, protects public health and safety .... to basically cover what’s going to be a $3.3 million cleanup.”

  So dangerous is the former Amcast plant building that firefighters refuse to enter the building for fear of putting department personnel at risk.
Photo by Mark Justesen

Burns is proposing a mixed-use commercial and residential redevelopment following a cleanup that will be guided by the EPA and the Department of Natural Resources. He will relocate Drake’s headquarters to the existing office building, but said more concrete redevelopment plans will depend on site conditions and remediation.

“Beyond that it’s really still a blank canvas and what we want to do is integrate our development with the interests of Cedarburg,” he said, noting that he plans to use sustainable design and green techniques wherever possible.

According to the agreement, the CDA will have to eliminate the existing tax obligation and acquire the property from Meta-Mold Aluminum Co. using eminent domain. The title will be transferred to the developer, who will have 60 days to start rehabilitating the office building. To receive the full amount of funds, the property’s value will have to increase by specified amounts, including $275,000 by 2020, $4.8 million by 2025 and $10.03 million by 2027.

The city has several safeguards if the developer defaults on the terms of the agreement, including extending timeframes, a life insurance policy and personal financial guarantee from the developer. The city can also buy back the lot for $1 plus the cost of any new or rehabilitated structures – not including anything rehabilitated using city financing.

The council voted 4-3, with one of the dissenting votes coming from Rick Verhaalen, who represents the district where the hazardous property has been most visible.

“When I ran for office, the most common thing people wanted was that site cleaned up,” he said, “but it will come at a cost.”

Verhaalen said he feels uneasy about committing this amount of taxpayer money with so many unknowns.

“My hesitancy is that I don’t see him getting $10 million out of this,” he said. “I hope I’m wrong. I really do. I hope it’s successful … but the density he has to put there, along with what we just approved at St. Francis Borgia (Arrabelle) is my concern.”

The Amcast redevelopment, just blocks away from the recently approved 69-unit Arrabelle apartments, has added to concerns about increasing density and traffic congestion in the area.

“It’s important to note Amcast was once a hustling, bustling portion of our city and now the intention is to redevelop and create urban infill,” Burns said. “We’re trying to be creative in reusing infrastructure that’s already there, which ultimately helps save the community money.”

Council Member Jack Arnett, who voted for the agreement, said there is a moral obligation to clean up the blight and remove the safety hazard. Burns said they will enact protective cleanup measures over the entire site, including the office building, and will be responsible for testing, monitoring and submitting samples.

Cedarburg Mayor Kip Kinzel said removing the building is a big step, and the additional development will help cover costs.

“It’s great that something’s moving forward on that site. Something needs to be done there, so hopefully this will be a first step to doing that,” he said.

Email: ahenderson@conleynet.com

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