MOUNT PLEASANT — In decisive action, the Mount Pleasant Village Board voted 6-1 on Monday to label the entire area slated for the Foxconn Technology campus as a “blighted area.”
Labeling the entire area as blighted, and not individual properties, could dramatically change the land acquisition process for those property owners who have not already sold their land to the village to make way for Foxconn.
Board member Gary Feest was the only “no” vote.
Wisconsin state statues define a “blighted area” as including “an area which is predominantly open and which because of obsolete platting, diversity of ownership, deterioration of structures or of site improvements, or otherwise, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of community.”
Alan Marcuvitz, an attorney working with the village to acquire land, said the village, county and Foxconn agreed to many commitments as part of a memorandum of understanding signed in 2017.
“One of the village’s commitments was the assemblage of the properties that have become known as Area I, II and II,” Marcuvitz said. “The village took the position at the outset that it would make every reasonable effort to acquire every needed property by an agreement with the property owner.”
Having already acquired over 100 properties, Marcuvitz said the village has more than 80 percent of the land needed for the project and will continue to pursue the remaining properties under Wisconsin law, including through the blighted designation.
“The village will continue its efforts to acquire every needed property by an agreement with the property owner,” Marcuvitz said.
Village using ‘technicality’
Feest, a fan of the Foxconn project, voiced his displeasure with using the “blighted” term to acquire property.
“The idea that we are going to use phrases like ‘obsolete platting’ or ‘open land’ or ‘diversity of ownership,’ a lot of that is rural America,” Feest said. “I don’t feel that this particular reasoning is sound.”
The word “blighted,” Feest said, invokes a certain negative image of a piece of property that has been given that label and that there “is something wrong with the property.”
“There’s nothing wrong with any of these properties,” Feest said. “We’re using a technicality to forward the village’s interest and I don’t agree with that.”
Feest called out Marcuvitz, who was sitting a few feet from him, on his attempt to keep residents from publicly commenting on the issue of blighted property at a Community Development Authority meeting in May.
“If I’m getting that advice from this lawyer, I’m going to question the advice he’s giving me now for my decision to declare blighted or not,” Feest said. “The easy decision is to say ‘the lawyer says so, the sentence says so, we can do this.’ I have a conscience … it’s not blighted.”
Village Board member Anna Marie Clausen said the decision to blight the area is necessary to move the village forward.
“The term blighted area is not a physical description, it’s a strategic position to enable us to borrow double-tax-exempt bonds,” Clausen said.
After the vote at Monday’s meeting, some in the crowd of more than 50 people booed and voiced their criticism of the decision. One person even yelled out “You’ll pay for it next election.”
Kelly Gallaher, a frequent critic of the Mount Pleasant government, told the board members during the public comment segment of the meeting that the village is “doing this for the benefit of Foxconn,” and not the residents.
“We will aggressively and relentlessly work to replace you starting tomorrow,” Gallaher said.
After the vote, in the hallways outside of the Village Hall, Gallaher doubled down on her comment to try to get the other Village Board members out of office and said that she is thinking about running herself.
John Martini, who ran for trustee in the spring election but lost to Ram Bhatia, said after the meeting he thought the village made the wrong decision and would not be surprised if the property owners pursed legal action.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn also was present at the meeting and said he did not agree with the decision.
“It’s disgusting,” Flynn said. “This entire board should be replaced, they betrayed their community. But more importantly, when I’m governor one of the first things I will do is bring suit to stop this project.”
“The term — blighted area — is not a physical description, it’s a strategic position to enable us to borrow double-tax-exempt bonds.” Anna Marie Clausen, Mount Pleasant trustee
“There’s nothing wrong with any of these properties. We’re using a technicality to forward the village’s interest and I don’t agree with that.” Gary Feest, Mount Pleasant village trustee