A housing development proposal for a 50-acre site in the Village of DeForest between River Road and Interstate 39/90/94 is drawing mixed reactions.
On Tuesday, Aug. 25, the village’s planning and zoning commission conducted a concept plan review of Little Creek Construction’s vision for the area.
“It’s not the wrong project, in my opinion, but it’s just not the right site,” said Mark Roffers, of MDRoffers Consulting LLC.
That sentiment was shared by Jason Kramar, a village board trustee and a member of the planning and zoning commission.
“From my perspective, it’s the right project, but the wrong spot,” said Kramer.
Jane Cahill Wolfgram, who is also a village board trustee and a member of the commission, said, “It’s a nice project, offering the kind of housing our employers talk about.”
Two members of the public spoke in opposition to the proposal. Kramar also read from what he called a “slew” of correspondence regarding the project, all of it against the plan.
Roffers is the village planning consultant. In a presentation to the commission, Roffers said his team doesn’t support the proposal at this site in its current configuration.
The area is bordered by the Interstate and River Road, immediately south of Norway Grove Church and Cemetery. Stretching across the southeast corner of the site, just northwest of a portion of the Yahara River, is Daley Road.
Roffers said that if such a proposal challenges policies in DeForest’s comprehensive plan, a concept review plan is required. If the project were to go forward, he said, it would have to go through a public hearing, a plat review and rezoning, along with getting site plan approval.
No action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting. The matter was on the agenda solely to get reaction from all parties.
Roffers said the site has been targeted for residential development for the past 10 to 20 years, adding that it has gone under various names over the years. Development proposals have always included some single-family and multi-family components to it.
The last proposal brought forward for developing the site, according to Roffers, was called Three Bridges. It had about 100 units in it, 68 of which were single-family homes, reported Roffers. It also provided for 16 duplex and 16 townhouse units.
A previous development concept was called Ten Oaks.
Little Creek’s proposal has greater density, according to Roffers. It includes between 270 and 280 homes. Between 69 and 75 lots are for single-family homes, with around 30 condominiums in duplex form. Another part provides 10 acres for 175 higher-end apartment units.
The developer has put forth two alternatives, one dating back to June that was also shared with the public at an open house on the site in late July. Public comment from that event factored into a second alternative, which moved the proposed multi-family site from the east end of the development to the south.
Roffers said both alternatives would include road changes, including the discontinuance of Daley Road, which connects to River Road just north of the Yahara River. That would necessitate alternate public access to the two residential lots and property to the south. A short-term solution would be an easement, with a new public road connection near the Interstate down the line. Another new public road, called “Street A,” from River Road, directly across from Woods Glen Court, is included in both concepts.
Transportation is an issue with Little Creek’s proposed development. Roffers explained that River Road is a significant collector road for the west side of the village that “is slowly being improved from its rural, humble beginnings into a more urbanized street.” However, it hasn’t yet been extended in front of this property. Roffers also noted that River Road improvements are in the village’s capital improvement plan.
“It is in the process of being finished, but it is not,” said Roffers. “We don’t expect it to be rebuilt until the 2020s.”
Roffers talked about how River Road currently might be able to handle the traffic from a moderate-density housing development, but not one with a high density.
Access to properties to the south of the development is also a concern, according to Roffers.
Roffers reported that both alternatives include a neighborhood park close to the river, with frontage. The first alternative provides for a 5.4-acre park on the southeast corner, sitting adjacent to the Yahara River. It would surround a 3.2-acre stormwater management area. The second alternative would split the proposed park and stormwater management areas to accommodate the multi-family housing to the south, resulting in a 6.8-acre park and stormwater area along the Yahara River and a 1.7-acre mini-park north of Street A.
Landscaping berms would be a buffer against noise and also provide privacy from viewing.
The land, primarily cropland with a collection of mature trees, is currently zoned for agriculture. Roffers said it has been identified in the village’s long-range plans for what is called a “planned neighborhood.” Roffers explained that the designation means it is intended for a mix of different kinds of housing, with parks and trails.
During his report, Roffers also noted that one of the relevant issues is a village policy that aims to achieve 65 percent single-family housing development in DeForest by 2035. Within each of these planned neighborhoods are provisions that single-family housing would make up 75 percent of all new housing units.
Other locations, opposition
Roffers talked about how other locations might be more ideal for the project.
These sites are generally close to community services and having multiple ways of getting in and out, according to Roffers. He also indicated they were closer to jobs and shopping “and other key components that suggest higher density residential development may be more appropriate.”
Cahill Wolfgram asked Roffers to identify alternate sites. Roffers offered some suggestions, including the northwest part of Heritage Gardens, Conservancy Place and Bear Tree Farms west.
Two residents asked to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, identifying traffic safety and congestion concerns – especially with DeForest’s new Athletic Complex nearby – and the proposed size of the multi-family structure, which may increase enrollment in the school district.
One neighboring resident, James Skelton, wondered if the proposal could be scaled down and not be put up right across the street from about 10 nearby houses.
Skelton said reducing the density could possibly sway opinion.
“I think a lot of people saw this as a very audacious proposal and were upset by it initially and are not really willing to compromise unless there are some changes made,” said Skelton, who said he and his neighbors expected housing developments in their area, but were shocked by this proposal.
View from Little Creek
Adam Frey, a representative of Little Creek, also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting and said, “We want to be great neighbors.”
Frey noted that what is being proposed is not low-income housing. He explained that the reason for greater density with the project was to allow the developers to bring in “exceptional amenities.” One is a kayak or canoe launch at the Yahara River. Another is an on-demand fitness center where residents could watch and take part in fitness classes.
Frey said the luxury amenities, which include plans for a salt-water pool and clubhouse, a bicycle tuneup area and a dog run, would attract young professionals, retirees, and empty nesters that have great incomes.
Frey said the luxury amenities would attract young professionals, retirees, and empty nesters that have great incomes.
Cahill Wolfgram asked the developers where they thought renters would be coming from to fill the multi-family apartments. Little Creek representatives said they’d be coming from other communities, possibly just starting out in their careers. They might be 30-somethings who want the flexibility of not owning a home.
The price range of the rental units would go from $950-$1,050 for a studio suite, $1,250-$1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment, and $1,600-$1,700 for a two-bedroom unit, which would include a gas fireplace and granite countertops.
Kramar asked where Little Creek had other similar properties. Little Creek has housing developments in Sun Prairie and Fitchburg.
Little Creek representatives also discussed the criminal background checks given to potential residents and how candidates must meet certain income criteria. The threshold for residential income is that they must make three times the rent. They also talked about how they have very few police calls at their properties.
Frey said one of the biggest factors is that Little Creek would retain ownership over the multi-family facility and twin-home condominiums. Frey said they aren’t going to develop it and flip it, nor is Little Creek a real estate investment trust, or REIT.
Jim Simpson sits on the planning and zoning commission. He said he is not as opposed to Little Creek’s proposal as others are.
Simpson likes the park areas in the proposal, along with the possible trail connections and the kayak/canoe launch. Simpson also appreciated how the multi-family units will bring in higher-end features.
Kramar said the village board is going to be talking about the housing mix for the DeForest community and that could be part of a revision of the village’s comprehensive plan.
For that reason, Kramar said, “I’m hesitant to bend until that conversation is had.” He also wonders if this proposal is the right fit for that property, but he also added that they will continue to have conversations about the proposal with village staff.
Cahill Wolfgram said she also agreed with a lot of what Simpson had to say about the project and added, “I wouldn’t take it off the table.”