Owners have 45 days to file papers
By Angie Landsverk
The couple who wants the 22-acre parcel they donated to the city of Waupaca returned to them has now been given a time limit to get it done.
The Waupaca Common Council voted 10-0 on March 6 to add a 45-day sunset clause as an addendum to a vote it made last September.
“If it is not accepted within the 45-day limit, there is no deal. It just goes back to being owned by the city,” said Mayor Brian Smith.
On Sept. 19, the council voted 10-0 to return the Oz Natural Area parcel to Kari Esbensen and Russ Butkiewicz.
The couple formally requested the return of it in a Sept. 13 letter to the council, citing years of legal disputes, discussion and negotiation with city staff and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
They want to rejoin the 22-acre parcel to its original parcel, an almost 13-acre parcel they retained at the time of their donation almost 20 years ago.
As part of its Sept. 19 vote, the council agreed to transfer the title to them so they would own both parcels, which could be merged into one parcel.
Once the parcels were rejoined, Esbensen and Butkiewicz were to petition to detach the parcel from the city.
They want to restore the entire 34 acres under the objectives they had for the Oz Natural Area.
This includes their desire to use goats to manage invasive plants on their property, something they are unable to do while the property is in the city.
That is why they want to detach the land from the city and request that the town of Waupaca accept it.
Last fall, the city recommended Esbensen and Butkiewicz rejoin the parcels and then petition to have the now one parcel detached from the city.
City Attorney John Hart reviewed this during last week’s council meeting.
Ald. Mary Phair asked if there were advantages or disadvantages related to that procedure.
Having different owners for the parcels meant there was the possibility one detachment was accepted, while the other one was not, he said.
Esbensen and Butkiewicz instead petitioned to detach the 13-acre parcel they had retained.
On Dec. 5, the council voted unanimously to detach that parcel.
In January, Esbensen and Butkiewicz then asked the city to initiate the petition to detach the Oz Natural Area.
At the time of that request, Hart said this differed from what was discussed in September.
That evening, it was also noted the Waupaca Town Board had met in early January and tabled action on the request to accept the couple’s 13-acre parcel.
The town then set a special board meeting for Jan. 26.
Hart said the city should wait to see what the town did, because even if the city petitioned to detach the Oz parcel, it could not be acted on before the town’s special Jan. 26 meeting.
On Jan. 26, the town board again tabled action.
Under state statutes, the 13-acre parcel the council agreed to detach from the city needed to be accepted by the town of Waupaca within 60 days, or the whole thing would be void.
Since the town did not accept the parcel within that time frame, the ordinance the common council passed on Dec. 6 was void.
During the town’s March 5 board meeting, Chairman Evan Abrahamson formally signed a resolution saying that because the 60 days had expired, the question had become a moot point.
If Esbensen and Butkiewicz still want to detach the properties, they will have to start the process all over again.
“The city is willing to detach not only tax exempt property but your property as well,” City Administrator Henry Veleker told them during last week’s council meeting.
He said the city believes it is best to proceed in the manner initially outlined.
“You get your outcome. You get your property back,” Veleker said.
The mayor said the council’s March 6 vote is to again agree to return the property to them.
Hart said, “At the end of the 45 days, they will own the property. It will then be up to them to do the detachment, which we (the city) are in favor of.”
Ald. Alan Kjelland asked what happens if everything goes smoothly with the city’s process, but the town of Waupaca does not accept the property.
“Does that mean it’s still in the city?” he asked.
The mayor responded, “Yes.”
Ald. Lori Chesnut asked if there would be an opportunity to rezone the property if that occurred.
Smith said there would be and added that there has been some discussion among city staff regarding that topic.
He said Esbensen shared information about what other municipalities have done.
She said the main thing they want is to be able to use conservation tools on the property.
Esbensen also noted they had concerns about the sequence regarding the detachment of the property.
Smith said the council voted 10-0 to detach their property, so he questioned why the couple thought the city was not behind it.
He said the council did so in December and would do so again with one vote when both parcels are one.