Expansion possibilities

There are proposed plans to expand the DeForest Housing Authority’s apartments near the Community and Senior Center, but the project is encountering issues with the Village of Windsor over liability related to the site.

DeForest Housing Authority officials continue to look at different options for expansion of its 32-unit facility located behind the Community and Senior Center to 52 units.

Speaking at the Windsor Village Board meeting Jan. 2, Executive Director Ed Wall said, “This won’t be a cheap project.” He estimated it could cost between $8-9 million.

However, efforts to move the proposed project forward have been stymied by potential liability issues that may force the Housing Authority to consider other options, including relocation.

Two parcels of land owned by Windsor lying near the facility offer space for the DeForest Housing Authority’s plans, with one eyed as a possible park area. A portion of the other would accommodate an extension of the DeForest Housing Authority’s shop/office.

The problem is, the property was a former landfill, and Windsor wants indemnification and “hold harmless” protection from liability if it allows the housing authority to use it as it intends. Further complicating matters is that while the land is owned by Windsor, it is located in the Village of DeForest.

At a previous meeting, Village of Windsor attorney William Cole suggested the property could be sold to the housing authority, but it would be a “take all or take none of it” proposition, meaning that the organization would assume environmental responsibility for it.

Wall was asked by Windsor officials to see if the Village of DeForest would take on the liability. At the Jan. 2 Windsor Village Board meeting, Wall said that DeForest Village Administrator Steve Fahlgren told him he didn’t think DeForest was interested in doing so.

Wall said to Windsor trustees that he visited the area in question. In a December email to Windsor Village President Bob Wipperfurth, Wall wrote, “I walked the land the other day and there is nothing over there but trees and brush. No hint of what was there in the past.”

Some thought has been given to declaring the area a nature preserve.

Wall referenced a housing rental study of the DeForest-Windsor area in his comments that called “stark attention” to the lack of not only workforce housing, but low-income housing as well, in the local area. In an earlier presentation to the Windsor Village Board, Wall had hoped that this project might help alleviate homelessness in the community, especially with homeless students in the DeForest Area School District.

Wall expressed a desire to keep the facility, which houses mostly elderly and disabled residents, in its current location near the Community and Senior Center. Seniors from the facility go there for meals and other activities. He says staying at the site is the best option and it won’t uproot residents. The current building is owned by the housing authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. If the project goes ahead, ownership would be transferred to the housing authority.

“I know the history of the building, and it has a lot of issues,” said Windsor Trustee Monica Smith. She also said it would be interesting to see a cost-benefit analysis of the project.

Wall said the building would be “gutted down to the studs and rebuilt.” With the Yahara River right beside it, it’s a quiet place for residents, according to Wall.

“It’s a nice location and they are comfortable there,” said Wall.

The housing authority’s expansion proposal calls for a three- to four-story building with a skywalk connected to the Community and Senior Center and more two- to three-bedroom units. Removing a hallway added two more such units to the original plan of eight such units.

Parking and rainwater runoff have been concerns with the project, not to mention that it could leave the village with a landlocked space it would need access to. Wall has written in emails to Windsor officials that the housing authority could buy that piece of land if needed and put in a right of way for the land across the river.

A bridge has been considered, but Windsor Village Administrator Tina Butteris described the cost as “enormous.”

Windsor officials have also asked about the potential for co-branding the facility. In emails with Windsor officials, Wall wrote that he wasn’t averse to it, but would have to bring the request back to the housing board.

With concerns about liability unsettled, Wall said the housing authority may have to consider alternatives, such as another site for the facility and underground parking. A five-acre site across County Hwy. V from the DeForest Family Restaurant was discussed at the meeting.

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