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Waukesha Co. wants state lawmakers to intervene in historic building dispute

Posted at 7:43 AM, Jun 11, 2019

WAUKESHA COUNTY — Officials in Waukesha County hope state lawmakers will help them override a City of Waukesha designation that blocks them from tearing down an old, deteriorating building.

The former Moor Mud Baths Hotel is more than 100 years old.

Waukesha County purchased the building in the 1970's, and it most recently housed county employees.

But the structure has been sitting empty for six years since those offices were moved into a new building nearby.

"We've already spent more than $500-thousand in taxpayer money on this building while it's been vacant and hasn't been serving anyone," said Allison Bussler, Waukesha County's Director of Public Works.

She said it would have been unsafe to let the building go totally unmaintained. It's already attracted crime.

"We've had a number of break ins," Bussler said.

The building will soon need a new roof, and that repair is likely to cost more than $1-million.

That's why Bussler and County Executive Paul Farrow want to tear the building down.

"That money could be used for two new snow plows, or to put safe, pedestrian-friendly crossings at five intersections around the county," Farrow said.

"We shouldn't be putting more taxpayer money into a building with no use to the county," he added.

But the county isn't permitted to demolish the building.

The Waukesha Landmarks Commission has designated the building as historic.

Lisa Salb, Chair of the Commission, said there are alternatives to tearing the structure down.

"It's Waukesha's only remaining resort from the Springs era," Salb said. "The property includes the golf course, the spring house, and then of course the building itself."

"The building is part of that whole property and if you take out the building, which is where the resort was, then you've lost the significance," she added.

Salb said that's why the commission has repeatedly denied the county's requests to demolish the building.

While the Landmarks Commission designated the building as historic in 2001, Salb noted it was placed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

"We've had a few developers who've expressed interest," she said. "We haven't given up on the idea that there are other opportunities out there."

Farrow said county officials have appealed to state lawmakers to give them the authority to override the Landmarks Commission and destroy the building.

He thinks such designations shouldn't apply if the property's owner, in this case Waukesha County, doesn't agree with them.

Farrow is hopeful a bill to that effect will be officially introduced in Madison this week.