Slight adjustments to a proposal for senior housing on South Fish Hatchery Road did not satisfy neighbor and Plan Commission concerns Tuesday, March 19, about traffic and what some called a poor location.
Whether or not the Common Council agrees with the commission’s unanimous recommendation to deny the project, it’s in a legally complex situation.
The city has already approved a general plan for the property at 2556 S. Fish Hatchery Road, and it also is facing a lawsuit from citizens who claim the Common Council violated open meetings laws when it did so.
Tuesday, the commission unanimously recommended denial of a 60-unit senior housing complex with mostly below-market rates and two four-unit cottage-style buildings on the parcel. The council is expected to consider the proposal April 23.
District 3 Alds. Dan Carpenter and Aaron Richardson – who is running for mayor – were among 12 residents who spoke against it to the Plan Commission during a public hearing. Carpenter said the comprehensive plan amendment that made the property high-density housing was one of the first he saw six years ago when he joined the council, and said he’s learned since then that it was a mistake.
“It’s all about the location,” Carpenter said. “No matter how many times you try to tweak this, it’s still a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.”
The plan had been modified from the 73-unit senior housing building that earned a preliminary approval last October. That approval, for a general implementation plan, sets the zoning, which provides a developer with some legal entitlements to build.
It also was a reconsideration of an earlier vote against the proposal, the process of which is the subject of the lawsuit, filed in Dane County Circuit Court in February.
At the time, traffic was the biggest concern from residents, and some alders said they would only vote in favor of the final project if the developer were able to add a driveway entrance somewhere other than Fish Hatchery Road.
That was not part of the plan brought forward in the specific implementation stage, which is the second part of the three-step planned development district process. The plan instead added “tapering” at the driveway entry and limited exits to right-turn only, which the developer felt satisfied the condition on the general implementation plan approval to work with City of Fitchburg and Dane County staff to address traffic concerns.
“(Engineers) say we don’t even need (the tapering), so this is more of a going above and beyond to try and alleviate concerns raised by people who are not traffic experts,” said developer Jacob Klein.
That was not enough to satisfy commissioners’ and residents’ concerns.
“I opposed this project last summer because of the traffic issue,” said commissioner Ed Kinney, a candidate for District 4 alder. “I don’t believe the traffic should be going out to Fish Hatchery Road.”
Another concern from residents and commissioners was the lack of access to services for seniors living there, with the nearest bus stop nearly a half-mile away and no grocery stores nearby.
Speakers during the public hearing had also questioned how the owner could enforce a 55-plus age restriction on the leases, but Klein maintained he has experience with these developments and anyone living in the units who was not on the lease would put tax credits for the development at risk.
“It’s frustrating,” he said of the questions. “Anybody that lives in the unit has to be on the lease.”
Ald. Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2), who is the council representative on the commission, said any development on the land will be a challenge unless the road is changed.
“We are going to have this issue, whatever development is coming here,” she said. “The city needs to address this issue.”