Rezoning request for a vacant Washburn Neighborhood property denied for second time

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – A rezoning request for a vacant Washburn Neighborhood property was denied Monday evening by the La Crosse City Plan Commission for a second time.

The property, 432 Division St. at the corner of Fifth Avenue, is the former Big Brothers Big Sisters building.

The current owner of the building wants to tear it down to build a multi-unit apartment building.

But Washburn Neighborhood residents have a number of concerns, including the size of the proposed building, parking, and fears that it would result in increased crime and drug use.

When plan commissioner Cassandra Woodward recently met with the Washburn Neighborhood Association about this issue they also told her they have objections over the property owner – Enrique Valera of Lopez V Incorporated.

During Monday’s meeting, Woodward said she’s disappointed Valera didn’t attend to address their concerns, which go back over a year.

“I worked specifically last year to rewrite and update the neighborhood plan and one of the hot, biggest concerns in that is landlords that did not maintain their properties. So, Mr. Valera unfortunately has lost a lot of trust in the neighborhood. You’re going to have a really hard time trying to regain that trust,” Woodward said.

Aaron Wickesberg of Reliant Realty, representing Valera, said the discussion wasn’t about the landlord, it was about rezoning the property.

He also said concerns about Valera were never brought up to him until Monday’s meeting.

Wickesberg said his client is being used as a scapegoat for a much bigger issue.

“My client owns three properties in that area… or owned at one point in time three properties. One is the subject property. Short of having one bad tenant that we took care of as soon as we came on board, I’m not certain that the issues that are being brought up are issues that are directly related to this landlord,” Wickesberg said.

Councilmember Scott Neumeister, who originally denied the request to rezone earlier this month, voted to approve it this time around.

He agreed with Wickesberg and others that the meeting was not about the landlord.

“I think they deserve to have [the property] rezoned. It’s definitely a problem there, and again I’ll say it like I said last time: Be careful what you wish for because there could be a lot worse things on that corner than what they’re suggesting,” Neumeister said.