South Fish Hatchery Senior Housing

The Common Council denied a rezoning request related to a proposed 73-unit senior housing building on South Fish Hatchery Road.

City of Fitchburg

A controversial 73-unit senior housing proposal for South Fish Hatchery Road is dead after the Common Council voted it down Tuesday, June 25.

On a 5-2 vote that came after no discussion – at the city attorney’s recommendation, based on potential litigation – alders voted against allowing developer Jacob Klein to construct the “affordable” senior complex at 2556 S. Fish Hatchery Road.

The vote was on the specific implementation plan, the final step of the three-step development process. Last year, the Council approved the general development plan for a similar project after denying it earlier in the year and bringing it back for reconsideration.

A GDP approval normally entitles a developer to approval of a similar project for the SIP stage. However, the GDP approval included a condition that the project satisfy concerns alders and other residents had about traffic, and the plan as voted on included the only entrance and exit into the complex via South Fish Hatchery Road.

Klein told alders he believed he had done enough by getting approval from city and Dane County staff for a wider exit and restricting exits to right turns. But members of the council in previous meetings – and Plan Commission on June 19 – disagreed, with several maintaining that it’s a fine project in the wrong location. They have also noted the lack of amenities for the proposed complex’s residents within walking distance.

Klein and his attorney, Jessica Polakowski, have used those references to its location to allege opponents don’t want low-income seniors near them.

They cited “disparate impacts” resulting from concentrating low-income housing in specific areas of the city, and during a vote on a different proposal for the property in April, Polakowski cited Supreme Court rulings saying litigation can be based on those impacts regardless of intent.

Because of that and other threats of litigation, city administrator Patrick Marsh discouraged alders from discussing the project Tuesday.

“Our city attorney has recommended that there be no additional discussion beyond the public appearances on this matter and that you vote with the knowledge you have in front of you,” Marsh said.

Polakowski said she and Klein requested a meeting with the mayor and city administrator, but the city’s attorney turned that down.

“I would like to say there are options, but at this point, we’ve tried to explore them, and there are none,” Polakowski said.