City of Fitchburg

A proposal to return a part of the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood from high density to medium will be on the Common Council’s September agenda.

And neither the apartment developer nor the residents opposed to high-density zoning are happy about it.

“The bigger issue is how this all happened,” said Colleen Chase, the Lacy Heights Neighborhood Association treasurer, who opposes the idea of high-density in the area. “It’s not passing the feel-good test.”

Developer Chris Ehlers expressed a similar sentiment, even as he and Chase are on opposite sides of the proposal itself.

“This is the first time I haven’t even been allowed to present a project,” Ehlers said.

That project would have put 182 apartments on six of the remaining undeveloped acres in the neighborhood. Ehlers said high-density housing would allow him to build 80 “affordable” ownership units, with prices under $300,000, across the street. Developer Craig Raddatz, who was working with Ehlers on the apartment proposal, told the Plan Commission July 17 that while he was disappointed, they would be “going back to the drawing table” on the site.

“This is what belongs here,” Raddatz said. “But we’ve heard, and there’s going to be a change.”

Under an amendment to the comprehensive plan approved unanimously last year with little opposition, the apartments are allowed.

But the council is expected to decide Sept. 11 whether to undo that change and instead restore medium-density zoning on the parcel, which is supported by residents in the Lacy Heights and Seminole Forest neighborhoods that are next to NSP.

Medium-density zoning was in the initial neighborhood plan, approved in 2013 after a few years of discussion. It was changed to high density when the parcel was split last year to put in a church, which had initially been in another part of the development.

Alds. Dan Bahr (Dist. 2), Dan Carpenter (D-3) and Tom Clauder (D-4) have all come out in support of medium density. That means with either two more votes or one more and tiebreaker support from Mayor Jason Gonzalez, the amendment would pass the council. The resolution would then would need a reapproval from the Plan Commission, which recommended against the change July 17.

Carpenter said at the June 26 Council meeting, where dozens of residents turned out to oppose the plan, the city “erred” in changing the plan last year, and he again shared that view at the July 17 Plan Commission meeting.

“My main concern is from a process standpoint,” Carpenter said during public comment. “If everybody’s coming together and making a plan, then the plan shouldn’t be changed.”

Late in that meeting, which included dozens registering support and dozens of others speaking in opposition to the high-density proposal, commissioners agreed they should find a compromise with the neighbors. They also said they didn’t need to adjust the comprehensive plan, as they could deal with this project’s density during other stages of the development process, allowing for more flexibility in discussions between Ehlers and the neighbors.

The commission discussed the comprehensive plan before it reviewed the plan Ehlers had developed, which bothered Ehlers. It seemed to also be an issue for Carol Poole after Raddatz withdrew the rezone request from consideration that night.

“No one has even seen this plan, yet we’ve spent six hours or however long we’ve been here talking about a plan that everyone’s afraid of that no one’s even seen yet,” Poole said last month as the commission moved on to Ehlers’ proposal.

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