Despite concerns from neighbors and other city residents, members of the Sun Prairie Plan Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 8 unanimously voted to recommend city council approval of the proposed 118 single family lot development by Habitat for Humanity on the city’s east side.
Located at the northwest corner of Town Hall Road and East Main Street, the development includes 50 lots to be developed by Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, with the others to be sold for development by other builders, according to a staff report by City Planning Director Tim Semmann.
The site is bounded on the east by Town Hall Drive, where two streets will connect and provide access through the site. Three additional points of access will be provided, connecting into the Gardens of Willowbrook neighborhood to the north and west. An internal alley will be provided through the central block, minimizing drive openings along the street frontages of this portion of the neighborhood.
The southern portion of the development will include open space consisting of wetlands, stormwater basins, and parkland. A multi-use trail would be provided through the open space. Most of the wetlands would be preserved with the exception of two small areas that are allowed to be filled, according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulations.
Additional green space will be provided along the northerly portion of the site through a 10-foot landscaping buffer located south of, and adjacent to, the existing private alley located at the edge of the Gardens of Willowbrook neighborhood.
The development is planned to be constructed in four phases with roughly two to three years between phases, depending on market conditions.
Semmann wrote in his staff report that construction of the first phase of construction is planned for the fall of 2020, which includes development of the park and open space areas.
The density variation of 6.95 units/acre is calculated using the net density of developable land. When the entire tract of land north of the railroad tracts is used, the gross density of the development is approximately 2.5 units per acre – which is less than the maximum gross density allowed (4.4 units/acre) using the compact cluster type of development under SR-4 zoning.
The overall density of the site on the north side of the railroad tracks is relatively low – at approximately 2.5 units per acre inclusive of the wetland and open space area, according to Semmann.
“The relatively low density and unit count of this neighborhood should not warrant the need for a traffic impact analysis,” Semmann wrote in the report to the commission.
Additional right-of way might be needed along Town Hall Drive to construct the street to City standards, but additional turn lanes, signals, etc. are not anticipated at the intersection of Town Hall and Highway 19.
Traffic volume was high on the list of concerns expressed by neighbors during the public hearing about the development at the commission meeting.
“What I want to talk most about tonight is traffic,” remarked Willowbrook Trail resident Dan Seeley, who said he disagreed with the staff report that a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) was not needed as part of the plan.
As a neighborhood resident, Seeley said he’s noticed more traffic in the neighborhood, and the addition of 118 lots worth of cars will increase that amount. How are they going to move cars through the neighborhood without an analysis? The intersections all have yield signs or are uncontrolled by traffic control signs.
“If we’re not going to require a TIA,” Seeley asked, “who answers those questions?”
Later during the staff comment response period, Semmann and Community Development Director Scott Kugler said in their discussions with Director of Public Services/City Engineer Adam Schleicher, he said a TIA would not be needed, especially if the development is completed in phases.
But Seeley said even if the neighborhood takes 12 years to build out, it’s best to plan for the traffic volume now, before a problem arises.
Seeley said if the city does not do a TIA, how will those questions be answered.
“If we don’t have those answers tonight,” Seeley added, “then I think it’s premature to approve the development here tonight.”
“I’m kind of disappointed in the plan,” remarked Larry Legro, a neighboring Gardens of Willowbrook resident.
He said the Gardens at Willowbrook “carriage paths” — an updated reference for alley ways — did not work, and cautioned against continuing their use in the new Habitat development.
Legro said garbage trucks will not pick up containers on the carriage paths because their trucks will damage the pavement.
Kugler said the city requires the home owners association (HOA) for the Habitat development to sign an indemnification agreement with the refuse hauler that they will not be held responsible for damaging the road surface. In addition, Semmann said the Habitat development will have adequate turnarounds and wide enough alley ways, unlike other parts of the city, to enable refuse haulers to access the carriage paths.
Dan Mickelson, president of the Gardens at Willowbrook HOA, expressed concern about the need for traffic control at Highway 19 and Town Hall as well as the 5,500 sq. ft. lot sizes in the proposed development. He also said traffic control in the neighborhood is already a concern and that adding more traffic will make it worse.
Later during the meeting, Adam Held Baldwin from Habitat explained the lot sizes are smaller in Fitchburg — about 4,000 sq, ft. Although Habitat does not have a HOA in Fitchburg, Baldwin said Habitat is planning to have one for this development in Sun Prairie.
Karen Hoefer recalled the collision at 19 and Town Hall where a young woman was killed in a vehicle-dump truck crash. “I don’t want to see that happen again,” she said, adding that the city and Wisconsin Department of Transportation need to work together to improve safety there.
Jack Hoefer said he was not opposed to the development as long as all conditions are met and all questions and concerns are addressed. He also wondered if a marketplace developer had been secured for the non-Habitat lots, and if not, what the contingency plan might be.
A woman who said she lived on Prairie Clover Court complained about the state of existing Habitat housing areas, including the Uplands. She said many homes have garbage in front of them — including one that has had rotten chicken in front of it for the past five months — and many of them have six to seven children living in them. She said she wanted to know how many children will be leaving in each of the homes in the new development and the ratio of parents to children.
Developer David Baehr spoke in favor of the Habitat development. He said one of the requirements for home ownership is 375 hours of sweat equity put into building the home. Baehr said Habitat helps address the housing crisis in Dane County and Sun Prairie. “This is affordable home ownership,” Baehr said.
Another Habitat home owner thanked Habitat for the ability to be able to afford her home, especially after he husband suffered a workplace accident.
After the hearing, Mayor Paul Esser asked about the lift station. According to the staff report, a temporary station serving the development may need to be replaced by the Far East Side Interceptor to serve the area including Carriage Hills, the Gardens at Willowbrook, the Habitat development and even the Statz Farm when it is annexed into the city in the future.
Kugler explained that a similar situation occurred when Wyndham Hills was annexed into the city and developed, with the city financing the station’s construction and recapturing the cost as land developed and more homes connected to the city’s sanitary sewer.
Commissioner Paul Schulte recused himself from consideration of the item because he is a member of the Gardens of Willowbrook HOA board of directors.
The remaining commissioners voted in favor of recommending council approval on a 7-0 vote, with commissioner Dave Hoekstra absent.