Despite another plea from former mayor Joe Chase, the Sun Prairie Plan Commission on Feb. 11 voted to recommend city council approval of three items that will lead to the development of the Pumpkin Patch Commercial Shopping District – including a new Meijer super center — on South Thompson Road.

Chase made two appearances before the commission, asking the city to consider sparing the historic Thompson/Schneider home located on Thompson Road. He said he had individuals pledge enough money to pay for placing the home on the National Register of Historic Places, and had an individual prepared to submit an application.

“I thought I was going to use the historic preservation ordinance that says . . . the city protects those properties on that register . . .” Chase told the commission. But that changed last week, when Chase learned during the Committee of the Whole meeting that the ordinance is not enforceable.

“But there was an intent at one time that the city thought historic properties were worth preserving,” Chase said.

The former mayor, during his first appearance, recalled a skit he saw during his mayoral tenure. The skit involved developers telling hayseed local officials not to worry — they would determine development mix and which retailers would be coming to their communities.

“What the city should check is how the development will affect the long-term business climate of our community,” Chase told the commission during Citizen Appearances and Public Comment on the commission agenda.

The former mayor also pointed out some of the comments made on social media about the city’s decision to turn the historic property over to the Fire Department for a practice burn — “dumb,” “ludicrous,” and “furious” among the many comments.

Finally, Chase implored the commission to consider changing the name of the retail development to reflect something other than the pumpkin patch formerly located on the property. He suggested “Grand Rapids Mall” — a reference to the headquarters for Meijer, the anchor tenant of the center — or “Meijer By The Big Pond.”

His comments were relating to the three items the commission recommended for city council approval:

• An amendment to the city’s Comprehensive Plan to reconfigure approximately 52 acres of land bounded by West Main Street, South Thompson Road, the Sun Prairie Utilities Substation, Menards and South Wildwood Street from “Parks & Open Space,” “General Commercial” “Neighborhood Mixed Use,” and “Neighborhood Residential,” categories to “General Commercial” and “Parks & Open Space” categories for the development of a shopping center and regional stormwater detention basin.

• A Planned Development District General Development Plan (GDP) to create the Pumpkin Patch Commercial Shopping District and a regional stormwater facility; and

• A Preliminary and Final Plat of Pumpkin Patch Farms, creating six commercial lots and two outlots on the same 52-acre parcel.

The Meijer Supercenter will be centrally located in the development as the anchor tenant with a gas station and convenience store located at the southwest corner of the Thompson and West Main roundabout. The Pumpkin Patch Shopping District is organized into seven land use development areas with each area allowing specific building types. Building types are arranged into four categories, ranging in size from 30,000 sq. ft. to 180,000 sq. ft. (Meijer Supercenter only).

The plan includes the extension of Blue Aster Boulevard east to connect with South Thompson Road and South Mallard Drive will extend south to connect with Blue Aster. Wigeon Way will extend east in the future to connect with Schneider Road, a new north-south public road internal to the site. Schneider Road will extend south from West Main Street and provide two separate connections to South Thompson Road: one south of Lot 2, temporarily identified as “A Street,” and one south of Lot 3, on Pumpkin Place. A private road, southeast of the Meijer store on Lot 7, will extend from Schneider Road to connect with Blue Aster Boulevard.

Some members of the public were more focused in their criticism. Chad Fedler, whose Shoppes at Prairie Lakes is located less than a mile from the proposed Pumpkin Patch Farms development, pointed out the number of square feet of retail in the proposed center surpasses the number of square feet for the combination of Costco, the Hilton Garden Inn, Kwik Trip, most of the apartments constructed around Prairie Lakes and the recently opened TJ Maxx-HomeGoods store. All of those retail uses in Pumpkin Patch will be accessed from a two-lane road, Fedler pointed out.

When Fedler attempted to learn what the traffic impact analysis said about the proposed development having just a two-lane road, Mayor Paul Esser rebuffed him. The mayor, who chairs the plan commission, said comments from the public are supposed to be comments and not a question-and-answer session with city staff.

Fedler said he would ask for the information at a later date. Thousands of dollars were spent by Prairie Lakes to conform with traffic impact studies for the Prairie Lakes retail development.

Sun Prairie resident Pauline Gilbertson asked why a development like Meijer couldn’t occur on the east side of Sun Prairie, where many seniors who need access to a variety of healthy foods don’t have access to that variety and will now have to travel to the west side. She said the city’s mass transit system will help, but wondered about more development on the east side of Sun Prairie.

Commissioners were also direct about their criticism of the project. Commissioner Paul Schulte asked whether the city could handle development at both the Main-Bristol intersection downtown and Pumpkin Patch Farms.

Commissioner Barb Bailey, who represents the Parks Commission on the plan commission, said, “I used to buy donuts in Grand Rapids at Meijer’s Thrifty Acres. Good store. Good corporation.”

But Bailey said she did not feel like this development fits in Sun Prairie at that location, adding that it feels “almost invasive.”

Bailey said what has been done in Prairie Lakes has been careful with respect to color pallettes and architectural amenities to make it seem like each new piece is part of the whole. “This, to me does not,” she said.

Commissioners voted 6-2, with Schulte and Bailey voting no and Maureen Crombie absent, to recommend council approval of all three items for Pumpkin Patch Farms.

Habitat proposal backed

Acting on a planning staff recommendation, the commission recommended city council approval of a Precise Implementation Plan (PIP) for the Town Hall Drive Development consisting of 118 single-family lots and six outlots on lands located along the west side of Town Hall Drive approximately one-eighth of a mile north of Highway 19.

Steve Hanrahan from Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, the developers of the project, said total buildout could take as little as eight years. The goal is to have 40 percent of buildable lots be developed by Habitat for Humanity families, Hanrahan said, but admitted that percentage may not be true for the first phase of the development.

Smith’s Crossing Storm Sewer item OK’d

Acting on an approval recommendation from Planning Director Tim Semmann, commissioners voted to recommend council approval of a public stormwater easement across a portion of Lot 956 in Smith’s Crossing. The lot is located in the First Addition to Smith’s Crossing McCoy Addition, near the eastern intersection of Leopold Way and Koshkonong Way.

Group home coming to Tower Drive?

The commission’s lone March 10 item will consider a conditional use permit (CUP) request being submitted by Tellurian Inc. to house up to 40 people in a “community living arrangement” at 35 Tower Drive.

The property was formerly known as Faith Gardens Memory Care, operated by Faith Communities Assisted Living.

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