What's to come for the historic former Moor Mud Baths/Grand View Resort property – once used to house the Waukesha County Health and Human Services building – remains uncertain.
But a Waukesha panel is expected to make an important decision about the future of the property early next year, sources said.
That decision will come after the city's administrative review board hears testimony from witnesses for the county and city, and reviews findings-of-fact documents from both parties regarding the long-standing dispute about whether to tear down the 100-year-old building at 500 Riverview Ave.
The county, which owns the building, would like to demolish it to make way for a parking lot for the current county health and human services building at 514 Riverview Ave. County officials say maintaining the building is too costly and repairs are financially unfeasible.
Preservationists with the city argue the Mud Baths building, which is on both the national and state register of historic places, should be saved and repurposed.
Appeal still pending
Standing in the county's way is the landmark designation assigned to the building by the city. Waukesha's Landmarks Commission must agree to remove or rescind that designation before the structure can be demolished.
In June, the commission unanimously rejected a rescission petition filed by the county. The county quickly appealed that decision to the administrative review board, which heard testimony from mostly county witnesses, for seven hours, on Nov. 29 and city witnesses on Dec. 6.
Both parties are now trying to put together findings-of-fact documents – written explanations of their respective decisions – which the board will then review before issuing its own findings-of-fact ruling, according to Assistant City Attorney Miles Eastman.
Eastman said the board probably will not render its ruling on whether to uphold the commission's decision before the end of the year, but added that he expects one will come in early 2017.
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.
The landmarks commission asserted that no such "good faith" effort to sell the building was ever made.
County representatives have said that, although they twice tried to sell the building, only one redevelopment proposal – to turn the property into senior housing – was made.
That proposal came from Madison-based Gorman and Co. and was ultimately rejected by the county because it lacked sufficient information, according to Allison Bussler, Waukesha County director of public works.
The landmarks commission contends that the county's request for development proposals included unreasonable terms, which turned developers off the project.
Mary Emery, the president of the Waukesha Preservation Alliance and an outspoken advocate for preserving the Mud Baths building, said even if developers weren't interested in the property the county could repurpose the building itself. She has suggested the county could move its Huber facility, currently at 1400 Northview Road, there.
But refurbishing the building, which has several structural deficiencies, to the tune of about $24 million is not a financially feasible option, Bussler has said.
If the landmarks commission decision is upheld, the county could appeal the administrative review board's judgment in Waukesha County Circuit Court.
If the county wins its appeal, county officials would have to work with the landmarks commission for two months to try to sell the building to a developer that would maintain its historic properties. After that period, if no suitable buyer can be found, the county can once again go through the rescission process.
A specific date for the board's ruling on the appeal has not been set.