City of Fitchburg

While the plan hasn’t been changed yet, it looks unlikely any high-density housing will be part of the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood.

Dozens of neighbors of the development at the corner of Seminole Hwy. and Lacy Road turned out to the June 26 Common Council meeting to express opposition to rezoning a portion of the development to allow for a 182-unit housing development.

Such zoning is part of the city’s comprehensive plan, which was changed last August when developer Chris Ehlers asked to add a church to the development. Ehlers has said the change was necessary to recover taxable value, since the church’s property is now tax-exempt.

Neighbors said they felt betrayed at the idea of high-density, which was not part of the initial plan worked out in 2013. Many told the council they had lost “trust” in their local government.

Ald. Dan Carpenter (Dist. 3) said the council “erred” in changing the plan last year.

“I think people have made it very clear over the course of months where they stand on this issue,” he said. “The council made a mistake in the first place; we were gonna correct our mistake.

“In the meantime, you have done nothing to change your proposal,” he added, speaking to the developer.

He, along with Alds. Tom Clauder (D-4) and Dan Bahr (D-2), proposed a new amendment to the comprehensive plan that would return the zoning to medium-density residential, with five to six dwelling units per acre.

“The whole amendment I sponsored has to do with trust,” Clauder said. “If you can’t trust somebody, you can’t vote for them.”

The zoning has not been changed despite being listed as planned-development district in the comprehensive plan. The request to change it was on the June 26 agenda as a referral to the Plan Commission, rather than a discussion item for the council. Usually, the commission discusses rezoning requests first and makes recommendations to the council.

The council voted to send it to the commission, even though some alders said that was a waste of time. Ehlers and his legal representative argued referring it out was “simply procedural” and he had “a right to apply” for the referral.

“I’ve never seen one in my entire career not referred to the Planning Commission,” said real estate attorney Robert Procter. “You want to go to the substance (of the idea), without the substance ever being presented.”

Bahr said there “is not a majority on this Council that supports this.”

“I’m not gonna ever vote for 182 units on that property,” Bahr said.

While the rezoning requests and the comprehensive plan amendment were both referred out for the July 17 Plan Commission meeting, the rezoning was scheduled initially to come back to the Council July 24. The plan amendment wasn’t scheduled to return until September.

Alders asked Mayor Jason Gonzalez to make sure all of the items came back to them at the same time – likely in September.

Contact Scott Girard at ungreporter@wcinet.com and follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.