A quarry tucked away in the city's northeast side could be developed into a stunning park that would be a draw for residents countywide, some city officials say.
Or upscale apartments or condominiums could be constructed on the northern end of the quarry, which would raise tax revenue to help fund a smaller park plan on just the south end.
Members of the city's Plan Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission are reviewing their options as they wait to see if the quarry property owner files a request to build housing there. The quarry is located south of Burleigh Road, north of Center Street and east of Lilly Road.
The 85-acre site includes a 23-acre quarry lake, whose water clarity ranks among the top 7 percent of all bodies of water in the state, according to R.A. Smith National Inc., hired by the city to detail development options.
Ald. Rick Owen told fellow plan commissioners at a meeting this week that he and Ald. Gary Mahkorn recently trudged through steep snow banks to see the lake.
"It is an amazing sight, even at this time of year," Owen said.
Ald. Mark Nelson said the site "could be a wonderful landmark for the county, quite frankly," not unlike Fox Brook Park, a county-owned site in Brookfield with a quarry lake.
But how to finance park improvements is a big question.
In tight budget times, aldermen will need to decide if they can find funds – especially if it means raising taxes – to build amenities there such as trails and viewing platforms.
The owner of the quarry, James Sileno of the Quarry Group, has had interest in developing part of the land. But the projected costs of grading an area he would be required to dedicate to the city as parkland under city development rules was believed to be a deal-breaker, said Dan Ertl, city director of community development.
So the owner had talked about donating the entire quarry, which was operated from 1921 to 1978, to the city. The city then would have to come up with all funds for park development.
The city could, in turn, sell part of the land for private multifamily development to help fund park improvements and gain tax base.
But in recent weeks, the Quarry Group has showed renewed interest in developing housing there, perhaps in partnership with the city, Ertl said.
The site has significant runoff and dangerous ravines. Developing it to add passable park trails, even rustic ones, would be costly.
Ertl said that negotiations will continue as city officials ponder the best future for the site.