The Knapp Street residential development project is now on hold due to a lack of water pressure at the site, the developer Swiderski Inc., recently informed the city. The Chetek Common Council met via Zoom for a regular meeting on Feb. 9 to discuss the matter.

Mayor Jeff Martin said the council had to keep working on the Knapp Street residential development project and the new waste water treatment plant, even as they hit speed bumps along the way.

“I think we all feel that sense of ‘the clock is ticking.’ We aren’t going to rush judgement, but we don’t have the luxury to sit on this forever,” Martin said.

Martin said the developer, Swiderski, had informed the city there was not enough water pressure at the site for the sprinkler system for fire suppression. Terry Hight, council member for Ward 3, explained that without the needed water pressure, they won’t build the proposed apartment buildings, but they didn’t say why. Clerk/treasurer Carmen Newman said it may be about protecting their property and may be required for insurance coverage reasons.

Council Member Earl Grover, Ward 2, suggested that Swiderski could begin building 36 duplexes first, then the apartment buildings in a few years, after the city had built a new water tower and supplied the needed 55 pounds per square inch of water pressure.

It was an idea to avoid having the project stall out, he said. Grover said the messages from Swiderski showed they were still interested in working with the city and not trying to dump the project.

Martin said that plan would require the city commit to building a new water tower, which had not been previously planned.

Newman said the estimated cost of a new water tower was $1.3 million to $1.7 million. More specific numbers would only be possible after an engineering study.

Newman suggested that if a new water tower was to be built in three years, they needed to figure out the costs and financing with the TID and utility funds. If they planned it for sooner, she would also have to look at how it would affect upcoming water utility rates.

Newman noted that within five years there would be major maintenance done on the current water tower—interior and exterior recoating for a total cost of $440,000.

Grover added that a new waste water treatment plant hadn’t been finalized yet and a new water tow could affect that.

Hight asked if some development money could be negotiated back from Swiderski, if the city committed to building a new water tower.

Martin asked if previous funds for the project and earmarked for Swiderski could instead be used for the water tower. Newman said it was possible, but it might be more appropriate to discuss potential deals at another meeting or in closed session.

First, the council had to decide how to deal with the water pressure issue whether that meant they wanted to build a new water tower or not. The water pressure issue would have to be figured out before Swiderski would commit to a developer’s agreement to build duplexes, single family homes or multiunit complexes, Newman said.

Martin said hard numbers were needed.

Ward 1 Council Member Scott Bachowski asked, hypothetically, how fast a new water tower could be built if approved today. Knapp said it would take two years. Bachowski said the city could commit to a new water tower as that timeline matched the development project’s timeline.

Bachowski asked how competitive the grants were for it. Knapp said a Department of Natural Resources principal forgiveness grant would not be competitive but a Community Development Block Grant would be competitive.

Council Member Mark Edwards, Ward 4, said it was a lot of money to build a new water tower, but it may be the right choice if that meant the city would not waste $440,000 to maintain a water tower that did not meet the city’s growth needs.

Bachowski noted that a new water tower was not merely for the Knapp Street development. There were parts of the city with under-pressurized water mains.

Knapp explained the height of the water tower would be determined by how much more pressure was needed in the areas that lacked it. For a few factories in the north industrial park, they have booster pumps for their sprinkler systems, Knapp said.

Hight asked what would happen with the lease that Verizon has with the city to have telecommunications equipment on the current water tower. Knapp was not sure.

“I’m getting the sense we have to know the math?” Martin asked.

“And what grants are available and what monies are available,” Grover said.

Martin said there were a lot of moving parts to the whole process.

Bachowski said another discussion with Swiderski was warranted to keep the project moving forward.

A cost of $1.3 to $1.7 million was a lot less than Bachowski assumed, he said, but that did not include other costs like a new well or removing the old water tower. Knapp cautioned any grant funding could not be counted on before it was applied for. He would look into all the costs.

Council members agreed to have a closed session with the development’s steering committee on Tuesday, Feb. 16, to figure out the city’s position before meeting with Swiderski.

Hight asked about the waste water treatment plant plans. The DNR wanted to know what the city was doing for a new plant soon. Knapp said a new process was being looked at. He was waiting on more data from a sand filter process, but Knapp hoped another meeting could be scheduled for late February. Grover noted the DNR deadline was March 31.

A meeting about the new waste water treatment plant will be scheduled later this month.

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