With several conflicts between a developer’s plan for a 200-acre neighborhood on the city’s north side and city development standards, the Plan Commission declined to make a recommendation Monday.
That means the Whispering Coves plan will need to return to the commission next month before it goes before the Common Council and could get full approval in mid-April at the earliest. The plan’s latest version – it’s fifth presented by Forward Development Group – shows 222 single-family homes, three unspecified “mixed-use” lots totaling about 20 acres, a 12-acre school site and 19 separate park spaces built around a trail system, including a wetland conservancy area, all southwest of County Hwys. M and PD.
FDG representative Ron Henshue addressed some of the staff and commissioners’ biggest concerns immediately, saying the plans were still being worked on and the mile’s worth of retaining walls, skinny terraces and inadequate stormwater facilities will all be fixed and the location for a future elementary school is flexible. He added that considering the Verona Area School District is still working out projections for future school needs after the current referendum construction is over in 2020, the delay is not a problem.
Henshue challenged the staff opinion on a few of the proposals in the unusual, trail-centered, curvilinear design of the development, however.
One of those was a herky-jerky route from the current end of Hemlock Drive to County Hwy. PD that he said was “more traffic-calming throughout the neighborhood.” The city’s comprehensive plan calls for Hemlock and Tamarack Way to both be collector streets funneling neighborhood and through traffic.
“We like the design that we have,” he said.
Another was the use of what he called “pocket parks,” or small, circular green spaces within cul-de-sacs. The Parks Commission had split 2-2 at its last meeting on whether they should be counted in the nearly 20 acres of parkland dedication required, and the city planning director took no stance on it but directed the Plan commissioners to offer their thoughts.
“We tried to develop a park system that can be used for all ages,” Henshue said, explaining that each would have a different park amenity. “It’s important because of the connectivity they be located within the park system.”
The plan features about 2.5 miles of trails and 10-acre conservancy, all of which Henshue said would be adorned with boardwalks, plantings and signage promoting birds and wildlife.
Commissioners were generally supportive of the trail system but mixed on the pocket parks and the conservancy. Mayor Luke Diaz said while he’s in favor of a conservancy area, the city’s ordinances do not support it and might need to change.
The FDG plan had made four previous trips to the commission, and commissioner Mike Bare said it needs “go back to the drawing board” for more adjustments.
“There are some things to like here,” he said, “but there are questions we need to answer.”