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Developers test waters for buying county land

First a willing seller and no buyer. Then a potential buyer and no willing seller.

Two years ago, despite extensive advertising, St. Croix County got no bids on an 18-acre parcel cut off from other "county farm" property by Highway 64 construction. Last week a real estate agent and an attorney met with the St. Croix's Finance Committee to ask if the county wants to sell the land in the City of New Richmond.

Although they made no offer and weren't ready to identify the potential buyer, Mike Sager of Coldwell Banker real estate, and Kris Krentz of Krentz Law Firm, Wayzata, Minn., asked if the county is interested in selling.

The prospective buyer would like to use the land for "commercial retail development," said Sager.

"The official county policy is nothing is for sale," responded Administrative Coordinator Chuck Whiting. "That doesn't mean they can't ask."

He said he has recommended that the county have a plan for the type of development it would like to see, if any, before it sells land.

Krentz said the client he represents has been looking at the New Richmond area for several years, and according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, this will probably be the only lighted intersection on Highway 64 for some time.

"Normally I'm a proponent of development," said Supervisor Buck Malick, Town of Hudson. But, he said, while this might be the right time to rezone land, it's not the right time to sell.

Malick said there are three major hurdles to selling county land: since the county has no overall plan, it's at risk of being "cherry picked;" the county may have to replace buildings, including the nursing home; and it seems unwise to think of selling when property is selling at the lowest prices in decades.

While the county is aware of "the land asset," it's in no hurry to move ahead with selling, summarized Supervisor Daryl Standafer, North Hudson. He said he would like to hear more about the potential purchaser's vision for the property.

Malick suggested the committee determine if the county board is interested in embarking on a planning process.

This property is important to the City of New Richmond and it would be unfair to take "pot shots" at developing it without city involvement, said Supervisor Sharon Norton-Bauman, Hudson.

There need to be discussions with the city about both access to utilities and future uses of the property, agreed Whiting.

In December 2006 an appraiser valued the 18 acres at $1 million. The land is zoned commercial.

Requests for proposals were sent out to at least 30 developers, but the county got no calls and no offers.