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Room 207 at Waukesha City Hall rippled with applause after the city's landmarks commission rejected a petition to remove the historic designation from the former Moor Mud Baths/Grand View Resort, halting plans to level the building.

Waukesha County wasn't joining in the applause as it tries to determine what its next step will be.

The commission on June 1 unanimously voted down the petition, which was submitted by the county, after nearly two hours of discussion among commissioners, county and city staff and several residents. The building, at 500 Riverview Drive, was also the site of the former county Health and Human Services building.

Demolition of the 100-year-old Mud Baths building, which is on both the national and state register of historic places, has been discussed for years, particularly after the county rejected a proposal last fall to turn the site into senior housing. The county included money — around $3.3 million — in its 2016 budget for the demolition, but it needs the commission to remove the building's landmark designation before it can bulldoze the building.

For and against

Preservationists want the building to remain standing and be repurposed, while county officials want the site to become a parking lot for the current health and human services building, 514 Riverview Ave.

Conversation at the June 1 meeting centered on whether the county had made a 'good faith' effort to sell the building. Commissioners ruled the county had not.

'I cannot conceive of any less good faith effort than the county has evidenced here,' said Commissioner Jennifer Wall, who made the motion to reject the petition.

Waukesha County Director of Public Works Allison Bussler challenged that characterization of the petition and said there are a number of problems with and mounting expenses for the building.

County's effort

The county must prove it owned the building before a landmark designation was granted and that it made reasonable and sincere efforts to market the building before a rescission of a historic designation can be granted.

Bussler outlined the county's request for proposal process and time line, which she said aligned with city code, and stressed that only one developer, Madison-based Gorman and Co., submitted a plan for the Mud Baths building despite two efforts by the county to sell the property.

That plan, for senior housing, was rejected by the county board last September primarily because it lacked a sufficient amount of information, Bussler said.

City Community Development Specialist Jeff Fortin argued that the county had included unreasonable terms, such as a short-term lease, in its RFP that likely would have discourage developers from taking on the project.

Bussler called Fortin's assessment inaccurate.

Next step

According to city staff, the county can appeal the commission's decision with the city's administrative review board or make additional attempts to sell the building and file another rescission petition.

The county's primary concern for maintaining the building is cost.

The building has significant structural deficiencies, corrosion and asbestos, and the cost to update the air handling units, electrical and plumbing infrastructures and interior finishes totals more than $24 million, Bussler said.

However, she added, there are additional problems with the site.

Last December, seven people were accused of vandalizing the vacant building, and, Bussler said, eight arrests have been made there.

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