Waupaca's Oz Natural Area left in limbo

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WAUPACA, Wis. (WBAY) - A dispute over the future of the Oz Natural Area in Waupaca was once again before the city council Tuesday night and the property is once again in limbo.

Field in the Oz Natural Area

A local family donated the land to the city in the 1990's, but the family says the city hasn't used the land for its intended purpose.

As we reported last September, city leaders voted unanimously to return the land to the family. However, the family still hasn't officially accepted it back.

Instead they want the property detached from the city to the adjoining town to address a huge invasive species problem.

Kari Esbensen and her husband Russ Butkiewicz are members of the family that previously owned the property.

"One of the big concerns that we have is an invasive species that has taken over in the past twenty years since the city has owned it. It's called Japanese Barberry which harbors a heavy load of Lyme and other disease bearing ticks on it," said Esbensen.

She wants to use a rotation of goats to minimize the need for chemical treatments in the natural area.

Goats have been used elsewhere as a cheaper option to wipe out species that threaten native oak woodlands. But in the city, goats aren't allowed.

The city says it's up to the land owner to seek the detachment -- not them.

The council Tuesday night took up the issue again, this time voting to give Esbensen 45 days to accept their offer. If not, the offer to return the land would have to be renegotiated.

"We're not stopping this. We've done everything we can possibly do to give them the property, and they want it handled differently. So it's like we're kind of in mediation and everyone is trying to figure out what's going to work best," said Waupaca Mayor Brian Smith.

City officials say the family does have the option to rezone it.

Esbensen says she's looking into creating a Sustainable Urban Agricultural District.

"The problem was at the time of donation we established seven restrictive covenants as part of the terms of the donation, and we encountered problems with those restrictive covenants being violated on multiple occasions,' said Esbensen.

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