A Madison developer has withdrawn its plans for a $17 million affordable housing project off U.S. Highway 12-18 at Cambridge’s northwest gateway.
Ted Matkom, Wisconsin market president for Gorman & Company, told the Cambridge Village Board on Nov. 24 that, with the decision, it may forfeit a $1.28 million affordable housing grant from Dane County and won’t apply as hoped for tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Gorman & Company approached the village in October, requesting an ordinance change to allow it to build the 3-story, 75-unit Artists Lofts apartment building on a 3-acre site at Kenseth Court and Katie Way. The site’s mixed-use zoning only allowed for business uses, however. The requested ordinance change would have allowed multi-family housing on this and other sites zoned for mixed-use, anywhere in the village.
The ordinance change was required for the project to be eligible for the WHEDA tax credits, and needed to be finalized by December.
Plans for the Artists Lofts drew stiff opposition, however, from residents of nearby neighborhoods, including The Vineyards at Cambridge and Woodhaven.
Neighbors testified at length before the Cambridge Plan Commission in October and again in November, citing potential traffic, crime and noise. Neighbors said the project was incompatibile with the village’s 2005 Smarth Growth plan which emphasized quiet single-family neighborhoods and maintaining its quaint historic character. Some said if the Artists Lofts were built they would sell their homes and leave Cambridge. And some said Dane County and WHEDA assistance should help redevelop blighted properties, not vacant lots near desirable, higher-end neighborhoods.
“This is not a blighted area, this is a beautiful area,” one local resident told the Plan Commission on Nov. 9.
Former Village Board member Rob Warren was on the Plan Commission when Cambridge adopted its Smart Growth plan in 2005. He said it limits multi-family buildings to eight units that must be scattered throughout existing neighborhoods rather than concentrated on one site.
The proposed ordinance change “is not compliant with the Smart Growth Plan,” which the Village Board and Plan Commission “need to follow,” Warren said.
Three existing apartment buildings in The Vineyards at Cambridge neighborhood “are in violation of the Smart Growth plan to some extent,” Warren continued.
Woodhaven neighborhood resident Rick Griffin said he can’t see how the proposed ordinance change “fits strategically with what Cambridge wants to become.”
“There are many of us who moved to Cambridge because of what Cambridge is, and we stay in Cambridge because of what Cambridge is. That choice is going to be tremendously impacted by this potential project,” Griffin said.
“I am aware that there are people, possibly divorced people, who need housing,” said local resident Joan Zerneke. However “when we moved here we considered Cambridge a destination. It’s not like Deerfield or McFarland; those are all towns that have stressed manufacturing,” Zerneke said.
Citing a recent magazine article that focused on Cambridge’s historic Main Street business district, Zerneke said “that’s what we want to be; we want to stay that way.”
“Are there any other three-story developments in Cambridge? I don’t think so,” said Woodhaven resident Marcia Terrones who moved to the village in 2019 and said the additional 75 apartments would “significantly impact our quiet neighborhood. There must be a more appropriate location for this development, even possibly in Cambridge.”
Woodhaven resident Crystal Schneider said she doesn’t think large apartment buildings have any place in the village.
“I do not believe this project belongs anywhere in Cambridge, especially at this site,” Schneider said, saying it would have a “huge negative impact on the developments that are already here.”
Despite the opposition, the Plan Commission voted 4-1 on Nov. 9 to recommend to the Village Board that the ordinance update proceed.
Matkom said on Nov. 9 that he might consider reducing the size of the building to two stories with just 50 units. And Matkom said he’d be willing to ask Dane County whether its grant would still apply with a smaller project, but he also acknowledged the general opposition to affordable housing in Cambridge.
“I think a lot of people here don’t like apartments in general,” Matkom said.
The Village Board was to vote on the Plan Commission’s recommendation on Nov. 10, but that meeting was canceled due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the village office, and rescheduled to Nov. 24.
Hours before the Nov. 24 meeting, area residents filed a petition with 80 signatures in opposition to the project, Village Administrator Lisa Moen said. Moen said several letters of opposition had also been submitted earlier in the month.
Matkom subsequently told the Village Board that he was withdrawing the ordinance change request. He said he might bring the project back at a later date but that a pause for now “is probably in the best interest of the entire community.”
Village Board members said they would like to begin a conversation in January about whether and where affordable housing might be appropriate in Cambridge, and how it meshes with the village’s SmartGrowth Plan.
This the third affordable housing proposal to be withdrawn in Cambridge in the past two years.
In 2018, a proposal by Arnett Homes, for an extension to the Summer Prairie subdivision at the south end of Waverly Drive, east of Highland Avenue, similarly drew adjacent neighborhood opposition.
Arnett Homes proposed to build about 50 ranch homes, each with three bedrooms and price tags under $300,000. The minimum size of the living space, minus garages, would have been 1,200 square feet.
And in 2019 the village rejected a proposed 20-acre business and residential development on the south side of U.S. Highway 12-18 across from the Cambridge Winery. The village declined to give tax incremental finance assistance to developer Todd Schultz for that project, which also saw local opposition.
Village President Mark McNally said the Village Board has clearly heard the opposition to the Artists Lofts proposal.
Moen said the petition raised “valid questions” that will be discussed in the broader conversation early in 2021.
“We don’t want to rush into something; we need to feel comfortable moving forward,” Moen said.
“We just want to hold off until 2021 until we can talk about what makes sense for Cambridge overall,” McNally agreed. “We want to do what’s right for Cambridge.”
Matkom told the commission in October that the vision for the 1, 2 and 3-bedroom apartments and common studio and gathering spaces was to be artist-centered. Fair housing law, he said, allows rental priority to be given to artists who can demonstrate that they are working in the industry or are hobbyists.
Planned were 15 units at 30 percent, 30 units at 50 percent, 16 units at 60 percent, and 14 units at 80 percent of Dane County’s median income. Dane County’s current median income is about $70,000 for a single person and $100,000 for a family of four.
Matkom said tenants would have needed to demonstrate an income and have a credit history and would pay their own rent, as opposed to Section 8 housing, where rent is paid by the government.
Matkom characterized the development as workforce housing. “This is not Section 8 housing,” he said in October.
Gorman & Company would have designed, constructed and managed the building.
Gorman & Company has similar projects in southern Wisconsin including in Madison, Sun Prairie and the recently completed Riverside Lofts in Jefferson.