Hobart field sold for $9.87 million
Oneida Nation pays for land slated to be used in interchange project
By Ben Rodgers
HOBART – A piece of land critical to Hobart’s plans to connect Centennial Centre to a new diamond interchange has been sold to the Oneida Nation for an astronomical price.
Two parcels of land totaling 79 acres at the corner North Overland Road and County Highway VV, or Triangle Drive, were sold by David Lewis to the Oneida Nation for $9.87 million, with the deed being recorded on Friday, Aug. 23, according to records from Brown County Planning and Land Services.
According to the county, the land was valued at $176,000 in 2018.
The price paid by the Oneida Nation comes to nearly $130,000 an acre, or more than 56 times the most recent appraisal.
A report presented to the Oneida Business Committee in July shows from April to June of this year, the tribe purchased 461 acres at a cost of $4.5 million.
Last December, the villages of Hobart and Howard and Brown County were awarded a federal Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant for up to $20 million to be used for the interchange project to address safety concerns and help spur growth in the area.
Hobart’s Centennial Centre, one of the fastest growing tax incremental finance districts in Wisconsin, is poised for even more growth with the completion of the interchange.
The two parcels are not required for the main interchange project, but are rather part of the project for a road to connect nearby homes and businesses on the Hobart side of State Highway 29 to the interchange.
“I hope the tribe does something positive with the land, building on the economic potential that the Village of Hobart has started with Centennial Centre,” said Hobart Village Trustee Debbie Schumacher. “Since the land they purchased is where the (Wisconsin Department of Transportation) DOT is putting part of the Highway 29 interchange project, they will be staged to do great things with the land. Leaving the land vacant would be a huge waste of millions of dollars.”
Oneida Nation’s mission
The Oneida Nation said, in a post on its website Aug. 15, “Oneida has a mission to reclaim our lands and enhance our environment by preserving the rural quality within our reservation and acquire strategic border protection that will control urban development that may interrupt wild life, indigenous plants and forestry.”
The post went on to say the purchase of the land from Lewis was strategic and helps the tribe realize its vision for the long-term preservation of the community.
“As caretakers of our lands, we strategically acquire property to protect against urban development that may interrupt wildlife, vegetation and forestry,” said Oneida Chairman Tehassi Hill.
Lewis told The Press Times he has no comment on the sale.
However, at a Feb. 5 Hobart village board meeting, Lewis spoke in opposition of the village’s plan to run a road through his property.
“I feel as if this town board has a personal vendetta to try and put me out of business,” he said.
Hobart Village President Rich Heidel said the project will continue and should be completed close to the original time frame of sometime in 2021.
“I don’t care who buys that land, I don’t care who owns that land, the Highway 29 interchange must and will continue to completion,” Heidel said. “The most important reason the Village of Hobart has pursued that interchange for the past 10 years is because of safety and that means the safety of everyone – tribal and non-tribal alike.”
Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach echoed those concerns.
“The community came together in a broad support between the state, county and municipalities, all advocating for this project, and we were able to go to the federal government, apply for this BUILD grant and we were awarded $20 million to build this interchange, something that if it hadn’t happened we wouldn’t be completing the project,” Streckenbach said. “The priority to have this interchange completed is to address the economic development opportunities, the safety of traffic exiting and entering Highway 29, the safety of the students going to the school district of Pulaski. For all those reasons and many more, this interchange is critical for the long-term public safety and development of that area.”
Hill said the tribe has and will continue to work closely with the DOT on the project.
Land for interchange still being acquired
The DOT is the acting project manager and is working to acquire the land it needs to build the main interchange, said Mark Kantola, Northeast Region DOT communications manager. It also still needs the land for the road that runs through the two recently acquired lots,
The DOT is responsible for all land acquisition costs relating to the project, which are then later paid by the municipality where the land is located.
Kantola said the DOT will employ a land appraiser who will determine the value of the property in question.
Once that value is determined, the property owner receives a check for the full amount.
If the property owner disagrees with the amount, the owner has the right to challenge the DOT on the value of the land in court.
The DOT can start on the project after the initial payment, and the cost can be argued later in court.
“We’re confident this is a good project for the area,” Kantola said. “We’re confident it’s going to get built. The county did a lot of work on that BUILD grant to get the funds for that interchange. Obviously it’s needed for safety, but we’ll work with the property owners to get it done.”
Oneida reacquiring lost land
This most recent land purchase is part of the Oneida Nation’s efforts to reacquire land it once owned, a cause which it has been championing for decades.
It also comes before the Sept. 13 deadline for the tribe to file an appeal brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago to challenge Judge William Griesbach’s decision that diminished the Oneida Reservation by roughly 50,000 acres.
In that case, the tribe sued Hobart over the issuance of a permit for Big Apple Fest.
On March 28, Griesbach ruled any land held in fee by the Oneida Nation or its tribe members within the boundaries of the reservation, which includes all of Hobart, is no longer considered part of the reservation.
From a municipal standpoint, the difference between land held in fee and land held in trust is land held in fee is taxable, while land held in trust is not.
Griesbach’s ruling means the following places are no longer considered part of the Oneida Reservation and are now under the oversight of local governments, including the Village of Hobart and Brown and Outagamie counties:
• Norbert Hill Center, which includes the Oneida Nation Business Committee offices, Oneida Nation law office, Oneida Nation High School and Oneida Nation pow wow grounds.
• Oneida Nation members-only man-made lake.
• Oneida Nation sacred burial grounds.
His ruling also pertains to the newly-purchased land, which is not considered part of the reservation even though the tribe now has ownership.
“This purchase has absolutely no impact on any pending litigation,” Hill said. “Griesbach’s decision is simply wrong on the law and we expect it to be reversed on appeal.”