Some residents say they’d be out on the street if their apartments are torn down for a new Kwik Trip
Marty Oas, 47, needed a place to live for not a lot of money, and he found what he needed about four and a half years ago at the Annabelle Apartments on Bridge Street in Wausau. With rent costing roughly between $280-$330, it fit his limited budget. But he quickly found more; he found a group of people who have become like family.
Oas is one of roughly 30 residents at Annabelle who would be displaced under a proposal that would build a new Kwik Trip gas station at the corner of Bridge Street and 17th Avenue. The proposal is similar to one rejected three years ago by the city council, except this time it would include both the empty lot on the corner as well as the lot where the Annabelle Apartments currently sits, near Newman Catholic High School.
Wausau’s Plan Commission on March 21 rejected the rezoning needed for the proposal in a narrow 3-2 vote. The no recommendation now goes to the full city council on April 11. Several council members not on the Plan Commission, including Karen Kellbach and Dennis Smith, joined those speaking at a public hearing against the Kwik Trip project. City Hall received a 150-signature petition and numerous emails and phone calls. Kellbach, who represents that neighborhood, told City Pages she’d come home one day to 50 voicemails from residents against the project and even more emails.
While many residents spoke against the proposal because of traffic and noise concerns, the biggest impact of the proposal might be to the residents of Annabelle. Many are on fixed incomes either because of their line of work, their inability to work, or their age. About 20 of the 30 residents there are low income, building owner Joe Buska says. Buska gave early warning to some residents that the apartments might be sold to Kwik Trip and some have already left the 40-unit apartment.
Annabelle Apartments are one of very few residential options for people in their situation, residents said Tuesday. Buska told City Pages he is very lenient about letting people in, that he doesn’t even collect a security deposit. The rooms are small, and many use shared bathrooms. The building was formerly a convent and has an open floor layout that helps foster camaraderie among residents. Some have lived there for 25 years, says Buska, who bought the building in 1989. Buska told City Pages that he makes no money on the building, and the upkeep has been expensive. He’s more than 80 years old and isn’t sure what he will do with the building if the council rejects the Kwik Trip proposal, he told City Pages.
Marty Oas, front right, is among a group of Annabelle Apartments residents who are fearful about finding a place to live if the building is razed to make way for a Kwik Trip. They all mostly know, look out for, help with rides, and even lend to each other. The former convent is one of the few places they can afford.
The plan commission on March 21 did pass a rezoning of residential properties near a different Kwik Trip, this one on Sixth Street and Wausau Avenue. Kwik Trip already had purchased the properties and torn down homes to expand that convenience store.
Those in favor of the Bridge Street Kwik Trip said the land has stayed vacant since the council voted down Kwik Trip’s earlier proposal. The new Kwik Trip would bring in roughly $6 million in taxable value, says Kwik Trip Director of Real Estate Hans Zietlow. The move also would help the Diocese of La Crosse shed the property, which has been costing them money in tax payments that could go to church programs instead. A deal had even been worked out to provide Annabelle Apartment residents with first month’s rent and security deposit on a new apartment, Zietlow says.
But commission member Pat Peckham, who voted against the rezoning, said that while Kwik Trip is a fine company and good corporate citizen, enough residents impacted have spoken to convince him the project isn’t a good idea in that spot.