Conservancy Place Development Model

CF Investments’ proposal to the DeForest Village Board included a digital model of how the $30 million project would fit at the corner of Innovation Drive and River Road, built on what is now open field near the DeForest Athletic Complex.

The DeForest Village Board voted to offer financial incentives in the progress of a four-part, $30 million, residential and commercial development with potential to impact the direction of DeForest’s growth for years to come.

The proposal by CF Investments LLC came before the Village Board as part of a request for the project to be recognized for Tax Incentive Financing, or TIF, deferring property tax to a later date. The process ideally creates an incentive and reduced risk for new commercial development with property tax only beginning after that business has been established. It may also be applied to residential properties, but that was one of several points of strong contention in the meeting.

The proposal comes on the heels of a development study put together by MDRoffers Consulting, looking at housing needs in DeForest and Windsor. Findings of the study included that there is a high demand for residential property, and expectation for demand to grow as more people look to move to the area, and that these and other factors have pushed property and rental prices outside the range of affordability for many of those who work in DeForest and Windsor.

The CF Investments project offered a potential partial solution, adding dozens of residential units: a 27-unit condo, 6-unit town homes, another 10 units of town home condos, and a four-story mixed-use building that would have commercial units at street level and 125 apartments above.

The condos, as proposed, start at $160,000, as compared to other new residential developments in the area which commonly start at over $300,000.

The land plots in question would put the majority of the development on the west edge of Conservancy Place, near the DeForest Athletic Complex, on the north side of Innovation Drive, just off River Road.

Opposition to the project has been firmly in place since it was first proposed in June 2020, with arguments including that it did not properly mix with other single-family homes in the area, that it would result in an unsafe amount of traffic, and that it was inappropriate to offer the TIF benefits for such a project.

Another detail at issue came up through the very specific language of housing and development policy.

Lisa Drury, an owner, with John Drury, of adjacent Conservancy Apartments, explained that she appreciated the different aesthetics of the buildings since the previous drafts, but described the marketing as unreasonable.

“We’re kind of talking out of both sides of our mouths when we say that the people who move in will have income levels on the higher end, or attractive income levels for the commercial, but we’re also talking about affordable housing,” said Drury. “If we have $1,095 rent (as stated by the developers) for a studio, who is that affordable for, because affordable housing is typically based on your wages and ability to pay.”

Village Community Development Director Michelle Lawrie, who fielded many of the questions about the project, explained that they were not talking about “affordable housing” in a formal term, but simply more affordable than other new developments in the area for someone of average income.

Lisa Street also argued against the project, telling board members they would be subject to legal liability if they approved the project. “I would invite anyone who is on this call to look up the definition of misrepresentation,” said Street. “There is a legal risk here in regards to the act of publishing in order to actively attract homeowners to the area.” Street read sections of the DeForest Comprehensive Plan as evidence.

Resident and President of Degnan Design Build Remodel and former Village Board member Abe Degnan, passed on the opportunity to speak first, electing to give his statement after Street had provided her statement and citations, which would be relevant for his comments.

Degnan claimed there was no support for the project among anyone who was not a part of the village board, village staff, or similarly associated. “Going back to the Comprehensive Plan, as Lisa pointed out,” Degnan explained. “It is inconsistent with the Comprehensive Plan...and it is inconsistent with the neighborhood and the way the neighborhood has developed...the images that were shown never showed four-story buildings—never showed anything like this.”

Nicholas Street cited a petition started by Alison Kruse-Bowman calling on the village board to limit development in Conservancy to 10.1 units per acre, which received 714 online signatures.

“If I was 24 and lived in Madison, I would be happy to rent from these guys,” said Street. “It’s just the location. This is not the neighborhood for a hotel and a four-story apartment complex. There are other places we could put those.”

Chip van Meter and Tom Finnagan also officially lodged their opposition to the project, but declined to speak before the board.

Following the presentation and public comment portion, the discussion was put to the side to be discussed later in the meeting. When it was brought back for a vote, Trustee Jason Kramar clarified that although he would vote no, it was not because he completely disliked the proposal overall.

The question was also put to Mark Roffers as to what the impact on traffic would be.

“The CF Investments proposal generated traffic, there is no doubt about that,” said Roffers drawing from traffic studies over 20 years. “But compared to some of the other uses that were and are enabled in that neighborhood, including commercial and office research, it generated less traffic than those other uses.”

Trustee Colleen Little put the TIF question directly to Village Attorney Al Reuter: “There’s no legal reason we can’t use TIF out here correct?”

“That’s correct,” said Reuter. “There’s also a specific provision in the TIF law that says you can use TIF money, even in newly planned single-family residential subdivisions if the density of the units is more than three per acre.”

Little went on to summarize her line of thinking before the vote.

“What we’re doing is for the benefit of the village to make this area something that doesn’t end up as an auto body repair shop or something, because it is so close to the interstate,” said Little. “Yes, we’re concerned about citizen concerns, but as one of the trustees brought up, we need to be concerned that we don’t end up with a North DeForest and a South DeForest and whatever.”

In the question of TIF funding for the development, the board approved funding, with Trustee William Landgraf voting “nay,” and Kramar abstaining.

The next phase of the project will be in the hands of the Planing and Zoning Commission, who will negotiate details of zoning and construction before the Village Board sees a final proposal.

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