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Sun Prairie looks to sell property to Meijer grocery developer, threatening historic property

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SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) -- Just yards away from busy Highway 151, an aging farmhouse, stands out amongst the neon signs and storefronts of its neighbors.

The Thompson-Schneider property has stood on Sun Prairie's southwest side for more than 150 years, but for the past two years its buildings have sat vacant, property of the city of Sun Prairie.

Thompson-Schneider Farmhouse

Peter Klein, the former curator of the Sun Prairie museum considers the farmhouse one of the few remaining relics of the city's farming roots.

"It's an integral part of the history of the development of this entire area," he said.

He said the building's locally made bricks and New England-style architecture are just a few of the reasons it meets the criteria for the State and National Register for Historic Places.

Despite its storied history, the property's future isn't bright. A developer, Sun Prairie Partners, LLC, is looking to buy the land and build a Meijer grocery, demolishing the existing structures.

"To see that, another one, totally destroyed, especially to me for no reason," he said. "The west side shopping center is a mess. It has so many grocery stores."

Mayor Paul Esser disagrees. He said the development is just another sign Sun Prairie is growing and attracting businesses to sustain that growth.

"There's demand in that area for properties to be developed, therefore the city wants to sell it," he said.

Within two miles of the proposed Meijer there's a Walmart, a Target, a Woodman's and an Aldi. Esser said the market has sustained those businesses and he expects the Meijer will be profitable as well, adding that the shopping center serves the region, not just Sun Prairie.

"The city government is not approaching these people and saying build a grocery store," he said. "They're coming in here because they see an unmet need."

The city bought the 41-acre property from the Schneider family roughly two years ago to develop storm water retention infrastructure on 10 acres. Esser said they always intended to sell the remaining land to a developer.

"It's prime," he said. "It's very visible from the highway."

Esser said the sale would bring at least a million dollars to Sun Prairie for future projects.

Meanwhile, Klein said he's spent the past several years trying unsuccessfully to convince the city council and mayor that the property is worth saving.

"They were so important to this area, to the city, to the village and now I think they're seen more or less as obstacles," he said.

Esser said preserving the buildings can't rest on the city's shoulders. He said the location is unsuitable for a park and maintaining the buildings would cost the city hundreds of thousands.

"I don't think that's a good use of the city's funds," he said.

He said the buildings are available if historians want to transport them off the property, but that too would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"It's just not practical," he said.

Klein said, at this point, he understands it's a lost cause, but he hopes his fight will give the city pause the next time an historic property is threatened by development.

"It's done," he said. "There's nothing basically I can do except stimulate people to think a little more."

On Dec. 10, Sun Prairie will take its first steps in the sale. The Plan Commission is holding a public hearing on the development plan and zoning permits.

Esser said he's hopeful the sale closes by the end of January.

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Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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