JEFFERSON — A majority of Jefferson officials support investigating whether the city should purchase the first five holes of what once was Meadow Springs Golf Club to use as a nature conservancy or possibly a housing development.
The land under consideration lies in the heart of the east side of the city. According to Jefferson City Administrator Tim Freitag, it is owned and is for sale by Madison Golf and Development Group of Middleton, the same firm that owns the former Windwood of Watertown Country Club in the Dodge County Town of Emmet.
During Tuesday’s Jefferson Common Council meeting, Freitag said the first five golf holes at the former Meadow Springs, along with the clubhouse/bar/restaurant and a maintenance building, no longer are being used and are in a state of decay.
Freitag said 50 trees on the property are dead, diseased or dying. Neighbors have been complaining of noxious weeds and the growth of invasive plants on the parcel, which has developed drainage problems.
Freitag called the property a “public nuisance and safety hazard” in its current state.
“There is a maintenance situation at the former first five holes at Meadow Springs and this has been the topic of discussion for us for some time,” he told the Jefferson Common Council.
Alderpersons later approved keeping an option open for the city to purchase the property at a possible discounted pricetag from Madison Golf. City officials said the municipality might be able to work out a deal in which it would purchase the property for below market value, with Madison Golf making the difference up through tax credits.
Freitag said the city wants to look at “repurposing” the property as a possible nature conservancy, with a paved walkway for pedestrians. He added that there is little likelihood it ever will be a golf course again, due, in part, to the cost of rehabilitating the greens.
Freitag stressed that the land parcel in question is not part of the current 13-hole Jefferson Golf Club that lies on the far eastern edge of the city and remains fully functional. He said the city has checked with the operators of that course and they do not wish to reopen the other five holes and connect them to the current course.
The fair market value of the property has been estimated to be approximately $420,000 and it is possible the city could pay perhaps $225,000 if a deal passes muster with both the city and Madison Golf.
Freitag said Madison Golf then would take what Freitag called “a charitable (tax) write-off to bring it back up to fair market compensation for the site if it were to fall into a nature conservancy classification.
“This is an alternative for the city, but we want nine months to do some due diligence,” Freitag said.
Among aspects of the property the city will investigate are the tree inventory and condition, along with the possible cost for removing dead trees, noxious weeds and invasive plants. Drainage concerns are part of the mix of concerns and soil boring might have to be completed.
“We’d ask, ‘Is this developable?’” Freitag said, adding that developers would be consulted to see if they have an interest in any of the land.
Freitag also showed a graphic of what a housing development would look like on the site and talk with developers could be a future option.
“And I know some of you would prefer the city not be in the development business,” he said.
“(This investment) would have to be good for the neighborhood and the community, and one use for it could be to take a majority of the property and make it a conservancy, with a hard path and prairie grasses,” Freitag said. “That is one use that would qualify for a below-market sale to the city.”
One thing is clear to city officials about the land, and that is there is an ever-growing water problem there.
“We would need a hydrologist to tell us how water moves through the property,” he said, adding there likely would be some public meetings on the possible purchase to gain more input from residents.
Alderperson Ron Miller was the lone council member to vote against engaging in the nine-month option to purchase. He said the city budget is too tight for him to support the concept of the city possibly buying the land.
Alderman and former Jefferson Mayor Bill Brandel was on the opposite side of the argument from Miller. Brandel said the five holes coming up for sale offer a unique opportunity for the city.
“How often does a large piece of land like this, in the middle of the city, come up for sale? Not very often,” he said. “Not going along with this would be a big mistake.”
Jefferson city engineer Bill Pinnow said the city will try to do most of the studies on the land in-house, but some of it might have to be handed off to consultants.
City attorney Chris Rogers stressed that the vote by the council Tuesday evening was to engage in an option to purchase, and not yet the purchase, itself.
A neighbor of the former Meadow Springs property, Earlene Ronk, told the council she is concerned about the dead trees that sit on the land falling on her nearby house, among other things.
“We’re very supportive of this option,” Ronk said. “There are noxious weeds and trees and standing-water issues. This would address a lot of our concerns. We could also see a lot of people using this space and it would fit into our healthy community’s needs. This would be a move in a positive direction.”
Ronk started contacting the city about the property in June and the concerns she and neighbors have had. The city, she said, has been very responsive, coming the day she called to look at the issue.
Her home is along what was the first green. She said water drainage has been a big issue and she thinks the city’s alternative use for the property is a good idea.
“I would love it. Absolutely love it,” she said.
“I think the DNR would look at this very favorably, as would the neighbors,” Jefferson Mayor Dale Oppermann said. “This would be a restoration of natural habitat.”
Brandel continued to urge fellow alderpersons to allow the city to look into the land opportunity.
“This is an option for us to have control over the land, and if it works out, it works out, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” he said.