Villages on Main

At their March 8 meeting, Waunakee plan commissioners discussed the aesthetics of the building, along with other site plan details. The plan commission will discuss the site plan further April 12.

The Dane Workforce Housing Fund could be used to fill a financing gap for a West Main Street apartment proposal.

The Waunakee Village Board met in closed session Monday to negotiate the investment of public funds for the Cohen-Esrey Development Group’s 50-unit workforce housing plan at 701 W. Main St. Cohen-Esrey has requested Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) assistance for the project.

Trustees stated that their concerns for safety for future residents and children at the site had been satisfied, and the plan commission will be tasked with final site-plan review April 12.

Prior to the closed session, Brian Sweeney, development director at Cohen-Esrey, provided an update. The development group has worked with village staff for more than two years on the project and appeared before the board a number of times, Sweeney said, adding that the discussions have been productive.

Sweeney said three weeks ago, the financing package — one that included the village board’s support of TIF funds — continued to seem challenged.

In that timespan, Chris Zellner was contacted by Lorrie Heinemann of the Madison Development Corporation; Heinemann is one of the Dane Workforce Housing Fund (DWHF) managers. Zellner then reached out to Todd Schmidt, village administrator, who notified Sweeney of the funding source.

That fund provides flexible loans to fill financing gaps for workforce housing developers, and Sweeney said Cohen-Esrey has had several conversations with the fund managers and with the chair of the Economic Development Council, whose members found corporate investors to build the nearly $12 million housing fund.

“We are giving a formal presentation to the funding group this week, and we are on track to have a portion of our package to be this loan,” Sweeney said.

Support for some of the $350,000 ask from the village’s affordable housing TIF fund and the additional DWHF “make this project marginally work,” Sweeney said.

Several months ago, the village board chose to utilize a one-year affordable housing TIF extension, something new for the village, and Sweeney noted that process “deserved all the time that we’ve had to discuss it,” he said.

“I often feel jealous of my market-rate friends because it’s tough, but it’s not as complicated of a process as the low income housing tax credit product,” Sweeney said, referring to market-rate as opposed to workforce housing. “In a traditional TIF package, it’s the but-for case, and in the affordable housing world, sometimes the but-for is but for the grace of God to get this project, you know, moving and finding sources, etcetera.”

Schmidt provided background about the process, noting that Sweeney first expressed an interest in the Waunakee community four years ago.

Recently, Schmidt and staff brought forward a proposal to utilize the affordable housing extension to assist with the Cohen-Esrey project.

The board requested the community development authority review policies to guide the village board as it considers projects requesting assistance, as the fund could see future TIF support, Schmidt said. That work is now underway. But the board chose to discuss the Cohen-Esrey request separately and did so again later in closed session.

The first draft of the development agreement with Cohen-Esrey was part of the meeting packet, and open to the public, Schmidt said.

Attorney Bryan Kleinmaier discussed some of its terms, noting the agreement is modeled after a standard TIF agreement but tailored to this project.

One section discusses typical developer obligations, such as purchasing and completing the project to the site-plan specifications.

Kleinmaier said the board needs to have the ability to monitor how the project moves forward so all requirements related to affordable housing are satisfied. The Wisconsin Housing and Development Corporation, which has also awarded funds for project, has requirements in place, which could be included in the village board’s agreement.

Finally, the board will need to decide on the amount of the contribution and advised that discussion be held in closed session.

Kleinmaier said board members could weigh in on the site plan prior to the plan commission’s April 12 review.

At the March plan commission meeting, the developer presented several site-plan updates.

Zellner noted that the changes include maintaining the playground size, rather than potentially adding parking at that area.

A black iron 3- to 4-foot gate surrounding the building and playground has been added to the site plan to prevent children from running into the street, Sweeney noted. Zellner said the fencing was non-obtrusive yet would serve a protective barrier.

Concerns had been raised about patio doors with no balconies, and now 2-foot decks have been added to the design.

Trustee Gary Herzberg, who had raised concerns at a March village board meeting, said he had spoken to the developers and found them to be “very accommodating.”

“I have a much better comfort level with the organization based on the discussions we’ve had,” Herzberg said.

Village staff have reached out to school officials about busing, and learned likely, busing would be available to students.

No action was expected after the closed session when staff were seeking parameters for bargaining with the developer. Schmidt said Sweeney had indicated that an April 19 village board decision would meet the developer’s timeline.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

-President Zellner reported that the Department of Transportation has moved up the Hwy. 113 construction from Knutson Road to the Hwy. I and 19 intersection to 2023. It was originally slated for 2025. It includes the intersection of Hwy. 113 at Arboretum and Bong roads.

-Administrator Todd Schmidt updated the board on plans for hybrid meetings, with in-person meetings along with Zoom access to allow those unable to attend to do so virtually.

-Schmidt also updated the board of several initiatives he has undertaken to address diversity, equity and inclusion, noting the board has supported his work in this area. Along with completing a Justified Anger: African American History Course through Nehemiah, Schmidt is participating in the community learning project, which had its first meeting March 30. He is also enrolled in the ICMA Kettering Foundation leadership institute. And Waunakee is participating in a case study to review how zoning works to support workforce and missing middle housing. It will result in a guidebook for other communities. The UniverCity Year project is also continuing, and a staff training is planned with the Ho-Chunk Nation and UW-Madison students.

-The board approved a bid for 2021 public works improvement projects.

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