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Tiny homes village planned for CF East Hill

CHIPPEWA FALLS — When Mike Cohoon began working on plans for tiny homes — portable homeless shelters — he envisioned a long-term plan of creating the “Hope Village,” bringing the tiny homes into one central location, which would also include a permanent building that features showers and bathrooms.

That plan is moving closer to reality.

Cohoon, a pastor at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, said his group is planning to purchase a former dental office at 1825 Kennedy Road on the East Hill of Chippewa Falls. The tiny homes would be placed behind the 2,000-square-foot building, with the dental offices gutted and renovated.

“We had a property search committee,” Cohoon said Friday. “We looked at a number of properties in the past five years. We haven’t purchased the building yet, but we have a contract for it, to close in February. We purchased the two 1-acre lots next to it. We’ve been fundraising over the years, so we had money set aside to do that.”

Cohoon said the dental office seems like an ideal building in a great location. It would be renovated and turned into offices, meeting rooms, plus a kitchen area and shower rooms.

“And it has a full basement, so there is room for storage or more community space,” Cohoon said. “We felt it was priced right, and we wouldn’t have to build a central building. And it’s the size we were looking for.”

Cohoon said they are confident the building can be repurposed to meet their needs, particularly adding the shower areas.

“As a dental office, almost every room has plumbing running to it,” he said.

City approval needed

The Hope Village plans were brought before the Chippewa Falls City Council on Tuesday. The council will likely set a special hearing on the project in late January or early February, said Mayor Greg Hoffman. The 3-acre site would need to be rezoned from C-4 highway commercial use to R-3-8 multi-family, city records state.

“I don’t see a problem with it,” Hoffman said of the proposal. “I think it’s an excellent location. We haven’t had any problems with the tiny homes in Chippewa Falls — no police calls, nothing. I think it’s something the community needs.”

According to the timeline presented to the city, Cohoon’s group plans to refurbish the dental office in 2021 and move the tiny homes to the Hope Village in 2022.

Hoffman said the dental office closed perhaps three years ago. He noted there aren’t any nearby houses, as the land is largely in an industrial area. A Subway restaurant in an adjacent building is among the few commercial buildings nearby. The tiny homes would be adjacent to the East Hill’s water tower and train tracks that separate the industrial park from residential neighborhoods.

“It’s one of the benefits of this property ... it’s not in the midst of a residential area,” Cohoon said. “We’d have electricity run to them, out of the ground, onto posts they can connect to.”

Cohoon said his group’s long-term plans call for also constructing several low-income duplexes on the site. But for now, the focus is on buying the building and remodeling it.

Tiny homes taking off

In February 2017, the City Council approved the first conditional permit for two tiny homes to be placed at Trinity United Methodist Church, and has since approved permits for other locations in the city: two have been placed at Chippewa Valley Bible Church on the south side of Chippewa Falls, two at Notre Dame Parish on the East Hill, and one is at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the city’s West Hill. Another two are located at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie.

Cohoon said a ninth home is near completion, and they hope to construct a 10th unit soon.

A tiny home is mobile, built on a trailer, featuring a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete, between construction and furnishings. Most of the units already completed and in use are 8-by-12 feet or 8-by-15 feet in size.

The goal has always been to bring them into one central location.

“We always wanted to be close to the downtown corridor,” Cohoon said. While this site isn’t in downtown, “we’ll be close to the industrial park, where our guests can find jobs,” he said.

According to the permit the City Council approved in 2017, the portable toilet must be emptied daily in the church’s bathroom. It also states there is a zero-tolerance policy on illegal activities, and alcohol, illegal drugs and guns or other weapons are banned from the homes.

Other rules stated in the special use permit include that no outside guests are allowed, cars must be parked in parking lots and not on lawns, and that no open flames — including candles or cigarettes — are allowed inside, and the guest will lock the door whenever they leave the premises.

Residents staying in tiny homes need to pass a background check first. Police have reported no problems with residents in the homes.

Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since the Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition, a group of 17 area churches, has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed.

Hmong care packages

True Vue, left, of Black & Brown Womyn Coalition and Blia Schwahn of the Eau Claire Area School District Hmong PTA bag rice Friday for distribution to Hmong families in Eau Claire. Other items given out were masks, sanitizer, water, books, Goodwill vouchers and $25 gift cards to Woodman's. The care packages were intended to aid Hmong families who are less likely to seek community resources for food and other needs because what's available may not fit the needs of their families due to cultural differences. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

Local legislators want UWEC building money in next state budget
  • Updated

EAU CLAIRE — Getting the second half of funding for a new academic building at UW-Eau Claire into the next state budget is among top priorities for state legislators representing the area.

During a Friday morning panel discussion hosted online by the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, local politicians from both sides of the aisle spoke about their intention to push for $147 million needed to push ahead with a new Science and Health Sciences building at the local campus.

“That was on the top of my list,” said state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-town of Brunswick.

Smith said he personally met with Gov. Tony Evers to urge him to include the building’s funding in the budget proposal, and the senator expressed a note of cautious optimism that it would get in.

UW-Eau Claire is allocated $109 million toward the new building in the current budget, but when the remaining $147 million will come is still in question.

While state legislators, university officials and others advocating for the project expected it would be part of the UW System’s budget proposal for 2021-23 funding, it was not.

That budget request issued in August by the Board of Regents instead put the second half of funding in 2025-27, according to a long-range planning document.

After receiving budget requests and estimates from all state departments during late summer and fall, the governor’s office is now preparing its plan for Wisconsin’s 2021-23 budget. Evers is required to submit his budget proposal to the state Legislature next month.

It then goes to the state’s Joint Finance Committee, before heading to the full Legislature for further deliberation and then seeking Evers’ final approval by July 1.

State Sen. Kathleen Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, who was appointed this month to the influential Joint Finance Committee, said Evers’ support for the building would be crucial.

“If the governor has it in his budget, that will be extraordinarily helpful,” she said.

But then Bernier alluded to a lack of communication between Democrat Evers and Republicans who hold the majority in both the state Senate and Assembly.

“I’m glad my colleague got to meet with the governor and share his thoughts,” she said. “I have not.”

Bernier did add she spoke with Evers’ office in the previous session, urging that the second half of the building’s funding come in the 2021-23 budget.

Smith said Democrats and Republicans from our area working together to get the rest of the building’s funding in the next budget could help rebuild relationships between the two parties.

Rep. Warren Petryk, R-{span}town of Washington{/span}, said he will work across the aisle to help the building project along.

“We’ll work closely as a united front with all of our legislators in western Wisconsin,” he said.

Petryk also views former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the current UW System president, as an ally in pushing for the new building at UW-Eau Claire.

Getting funding for a new academic building wasn’t the only priority mentioned by the legislators Friday morning in their look ahead to 2021. Other topics including workforce development, education funding, rural broadband, mental health needs and getting the state through the coronavirus pandemic were mentioned as well.

“Obviously we’ve got to get COVID under control before we do anything else,” said Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire.

Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said he spoke with Republican leaders of the Assembly on Thursday night, who assured him they are continuing to negotiate with Evers on a COVID-19 relief package and had hopes one would come forth in early 2021.

Finding ways to aid industries hurt by the pandemic’s effects were on the mind of Rep. Rob Summerfield, R-Bloomer.

“I think the biggest priority right now is to get our economy — especially our small business — back to where they were a year ago,” he said.

Summerfield pinned ongoing struggles that restaurants are facing on the April safer-at-home order issued by Evers, in addition to fears that the incoming Democratic presidential administration of Joe Biden could order shutdowns in the future due to the pandemic.

Emerson responded that the current state of the hospitality industry is not due to the governor’s order, which expired in May, but ongoing fear of COVID-19 itself.

“The reason people aren’t in restaurants right now is not because the governor shut them down in April, it’s because they’re afraid to go out because of a deadly virus,” she said. “Of course everybody wants to get back to normal, but first we have to get COVID under control.”

She said one thing hindering that has been Republicans — including outgoing President Donald Trump — not setting an example in public by wearing face masks and following other advice from public health officials on reducing the spread of coronavirus.

It was evident Friday morning that bitterness between the two political parties still lingers after November’s presidential election, which resulted in Biden’s win in Wisconsin, the Electoral College and national popular vote.

Bernier criticized Smith and other Democrats for leaving a GOP-led joint hearing of elections committees from the state Assembly and Senate on Dec. 11, which heard testimony from people who disputed the election’s results and criticized how it was run.

“That set the stage for the session,” she said.

Smith replied that he left room during the hearing because he was one of few people wearing a face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus and then watched the remainder of testimony on a television in his office. He added that Democrats didn’t get the chance to call their own witnesses or ask questions.

“We just didn’t feel like it was a very open hearing,” Smith said.

While the ability of state politicians to overcome a partisan divide in 2021 is yet to be seen, they do agree that it will be a busy year for the Legislature.

One task facing the state Legislature will be drawing new maps determining the borders of their districts following the recent census.

“With a Democratic governor and Republican legislature it will be an interesting year,” Smith said, adding that he hopes both parties can work together on it.

Rep. James said part of the next session’s work will be reintroducing bills that were pending before the current session ended.

The full Assembly and Senate have not met to approve legislation since mid-April when a special session was called to approve a coronavirus relief package.

In addition to the experienced local legislators, three newly-elected state representatives also spoke at Friday morning’s event.

Incoming state representatives Dave Armstrong, R-Rice Lake, Clint Moses, R-Menomonie, and Donna Rozar, R-Marshfield, all introduced themselves to chamber members watching the online panel.

True Vue, left, of Black & Brown Womyn Coalition and Blia Schwahn of the Eau Claire Area School District Hmong PTA bag rice Friday for distribution to Hmong families in Eau Claire. Other items given out were masks, sanitizer, water, books, Goodwill vouchers and $25 gift cards to Woodman’s. The care packages were intended to aid Hmong families who are less likely to seek community resources for food and other needs because what’s available may not fit the needs of their families due to cultural differences. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.