School plan has a hurdle to cross with the city

Getting the city of Hudson to rezone the former St. Croix Meadows dog track for a new secondary school won’t be a slam dunk, if the discussion at the Jan. 23 City Council meeting is any indication.

I don’t know why this came as a surprise to me. In hindsight, one could assume that taking 130 acres of commercially zoned land off the tax roll would raise some questions from city officials.

Dennis Darnold, the city’s community development director, made clear that Croixland Properties’ rezoning application would get a thorough review by the Plan Commission before a decision is made by the City Council.

Darnold expected the commission to devote at least two meetings in February to the review, and said the process could stretch into March.

Croixland Properties submitted the rezoning application, but it was accompanied by a letter from an attorney representing the Hudson School District, Joseph J. Langel of Minneapolis.

Langel explained that the school district has entered into an agreement to purchase the dog track property, but the property has to be rezoned from general business district to
public or quasi-public district for it to be used as a school site. A school isn’t a permitted use under the city’s B-2 zoning.

Langel also passed along Croixland Properties’ request that the rezoning go into effect only
if and when the school’s purchase of the property is finalized.

That, of course, will depend on whether school district residents approve the land purchase in an April 3 referendum.

The City Council rejected the idea of conditional zoning. Darnold advised against it, saying he could recall only one time when the city had made a rezoning contingent upon a property sale.

All other requests for conditional zoning have been turned down, Darnold added – most recently, one by the former owner of the site where the Uline distribution center will be
built.

Croixland Properties, of course, doesn’t want the zoning changed if the sale to the school district doesn’t go through. Having it zoned for public use, without a public buyer, would make it virtually worthless in a financial sense.

I assume that the Havenick family of Miami continues to be a major owner of the dog track
property. Fred Havenick was president and CEO of the St. Croix Meadows Greyhound Racing Park that opened in 1991 and closed in 2002. He died in 2004.

Leon Reitnauer of Miami signed the application for rezoning. An internet search showed him to be a business associate of several members of the Havenick family.

B.L. Nordstrand is listed as the registered agent for Croixland Properties Limited Partnership by the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Burt Nordstand, the founder and president of the Hudson-based SSG Corp., was a partner in the dog track.

The Department of Financial Institutions’ website lists six times when partners were added to Croixland Properties between 1988 and 1990.

At the City Council meeting, Alderperson Lee Wyland wanted to know how much tax revenue the city would lose if it rezoned the dog track property for a nontaxable use.

St. Croix County property tax records shed some light on that.

The dog track’s total property tax bill for 2011 was $93,696. The city’s portion was about 25 percent of the total, or $23,424.

The school district itself would lose the most tax revenue. Its portion of the total for 2011 was 47.4 percent, or $44,412.

Darnold pointed out that the dog track property could potentially generate more tax revenue if it was developed for other commercial uses.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the rezoning application on April 9. The hearing will follow the referendum election and the Plan Commission’s recommendation on the rezoning.

My guess is that the council will hear plenty from opponents of the plan to build a secondary school on the dog track property – as well as from supporters of the idea.

Get ready for a rock’em, sock’em political year.