Heal Creek debate drags on
The fate of the Heal Creek property near Northwood Golf Course will not be decided this winter, to the disappointment of many. The Land Records Committee, a sub-committee of the County Board that has been analyzing the Heal Creek proposals since they became public at the last meeting, voted to postpone awarding the property during their Feb. 10 meeting.
Representatives of the Hodag Sports Club and the joint Crescent-Rhinelander proposal made presentations to the committee and the large number of citizens who attended the afternoon meeting.
The presentations were followed by discussion from the committee and members of the board who were present, as well as a period of public comment.
Over 50 people were present, coming and going throughout the nearly two hour discussion. Approximately 20 people spoke during the public comment session—all in favor of the Crescent-Rhinelander proposal. In addition, at least 20 letters were written to the committee before the meeting, all but two in favor of the same. The two that were not came from the townships of Minocqua and Lake Tomahawk.
However, the committee and Board members expressed doubt in their own ability to make an informed decision based on what information they had. A motion was made and carried to postpone the vote until they could meet again with more information in April.
Both sides appeared frustrated by the decision. Several groups were represented at the meeting, among them the Rhinelander Tourism and Marketing Committee, whose members believe the Crescent-Rhinelander project would be a huge economic boon to the area, citing $1.25 million as the potential economic impact.
One issue that has complicated the process is the tax revenue of the property. Under the Crescent-Rhinelander proposal the land would stay off the tax roles, but the Club plans to put it under the Managed Forest Land (MFL) program.
Richard Voss, who owns the land directly north of Heal Creek and has been collaborating with the Crescent-Rhinelander proposal group, offered to pay the difference in lost taxes that would be gained from the Hodag Sports Club acquisition himself. Essentially, he offered to pay the taxes Heal Creek would have garnered as MFL Open land, something that was part of the Sports Club proposal, but not Crescent-Rhinelander’s.
Though a generous move, Voss pointed out that the reason he was doing it was in part to prove how little the Sports Club’s proposal would contribute to the tax roll. The tax rate on MFL Open land is currently $2.14 an acre, according to the Wisconsin DNR website.
The coordination between neighboring landowners such as Voss is what Joel Knutson, Town of Crescent supervisor and the spokesperson for the Crescent-Rhinelander proposal, said makes their idea such a powerful one. It was described by several of its proponents as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”
On Feb. 7, Knutson and the others involved in the project hosted an open house at the Northwood clubhouse, to showcase their vision, which Knutson said was a huge success.
The committee’s decision to postpone was based in part on hopes that the two parties could reach a resolution, potentially combining their proposals.
Knutson said that though he would be willing to cooperate with the sports club, “our plan is set. Our proposal is firm, our agreements are in place. Our proposal, our plan, will not change.”
Similarly, Hodag Sports Club representative Virgil Davis said they have no problem with Knutson and his fellows following through on their plan in the case of the Club’s ownership, but said “the only thing that’s not negotiable as far as the Club is concerned is we want to own it… Everything else is negotiable.”
Concerns came when discussion turned to perpetuity of land access. With club ownership, those in favor of the Crescent-Rhinelander proposal worried over the feasibility of a long-term agreement for access to create and maintain trails.
In addition, regardless of access, the point was made that in the future timber would be harvested by the club, throwing doubt on the fate of the trail system.
In April the decision will come back around to the Committee, where they may make a recommendation to the County Board, who will further discuss as early as their own April meeting.