West Side School Project Revived

The rehabilitation of Sturgeon Bay’s West Side School into housing units is back on the drawing board.

The project was halted in July when the developer, Northpointe Development Corporation in Oshkosh, did not receive housing tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) that would have enabled the developer to provide rents for low-income residents.

The first plan called for an addition to the school with some 30 apartments, necessitating the use of the adjacent softball field. That aspect of the plan drew resistance from those who wanted to preserve the ball field. This time around, the field is not in play, and neither is WHEDA. Door County Administrator Ken Pabich said the project will use only the school building’s existing footprint and the county’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) dollars of roughly $1.43 million. 

The plan is to rehabilitate the vacant, historic, 17 West Pine Street school building by creating 15-17 one- and two-bedroom apartments, thereby rescuing the building while providing “desperately needed housing,” Pabich said. “It’s one of those projects we’re proud of to see come together.”

A project that uses the CDBG money must benefit low- to moderate-income individuals and families. That means 51 percent of the West Side School units would be rented at a rate that’s affordable for low- to moderate-income individuals and families, with the remainder offered at market rates. Low to moderate incomes, as defined by the federal government, are those between 50 percent and 120 percent of the median income, which is estimated at roughly $53,000 for Sturgeon Bay. 

The county has been searching for several years for a suitable project for its CDBG dollars. It looked as though it had found it with the first West Side School project. When that stalled, the county then committed the dollars to the apartment building the city intended for the West Waterfront, also with Northpointe Development. That, too, fell through when the county learned that only rehabilitated properties – not new development – were eligible projects. 

“So then we’re in a time crunch because we have until the end of January to turn a project in,” Pabich said.

Though the CDBG money requires an extensive grant application and complex construction oversight, it’s not a competitive grant. The $1.43 million is earmarked for Door County as part of a federal loan fund close-out program, administered by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. The program was originally intended for use as revolving, low-interest business loans. Difficult to administer, the loans weren’t being used, so the state opted to close the fund and give communities a window of time to qualify for a project to keep those dollars within their community. That window closes around the end of January, Pabich said.  

More specifics for the West Side School project – tentatively, a roughly $3.5 million project – will be released during a Jan. 18 public hearing before the Door County Citizen Participation Committee. The Door County Board of Supervisors created this committee during its last meeting of 2020 as a requirement of the grant application. 

The CDBG grant also required the county to have in place a policy prohibiting law-enforcement agencies within the county’s jurisdiction from using excessive force, or barring entrances and exits, against individuals engaged in nonviolent civil-rights demonstrations.

“We have operational policy that kind of matched with that anyway,” Pabich said. “It’s nothing new or earth shattering.”

Though the county is submitting the grant application and will be involved in administering the money’s use, the City of Sturgeon Bay will take the lead once the money is approved on the design and development-review process, including permitting and inspections. 

The county expects to submit the grant by the end of January.

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