A 600-unit, 160-acre senior-oriented subdivision proposed for the southwest of the city will wait at least another month to get feedback from the Common Council.
It got a “maybe” from the Plan Commission on Monday.
The developer, Watertown-based Marquardt Management Services, delivered all sorts of information to commissioners in a PowerPoint about its background, purpose and goals and the economics of the market segment. But the essential question the commission and council will have to consider is whether it’s OK to have housing taking up a large part of what the city has planned for a business or industrial park, city planning director Adam Sayre explained.
“It’s strictly a policy type question,” he said. “Long-term, what do you think is an appropriate amount of land that should be planned for a business park or a nonresidential use (in that area)?”
The relatively new commission – four of the six members there Monday had served in one or fewer meetings – wasn’t ready to answer that without more information on the potential impact.
On the plus side, some said, it could add housing to a market that’s got more demand than supply right now. On the minus side, large, contiguous areas near two major highways are perfect for large employers and aren’t easy to come by.
So commissioners asked for city staff to research and present alternatives – such as finding a new home for the project – and what they could expect to see there long-term if the project were not allowed.
The council, which itself has gotten three new alders and a new mayor in the past two months, will get a chance to review it once the commission has a better handle on such things, commissioners agreed.
For the developer, the incomplete response was good enough to continue its research.
“I think we can live with that and continue to provide information,” said CEO Matt Mauthe. “If the answer is ‘hell no, get out,’ that would be good to know because it’s expensive for us to develop. Before we pour a lot of resources into it, we want to know whether you think it’s even possible.”
Mauthe, a Verona resident, said he’s found it “exciting” to propose such a development where he lives – his company’s closest developments are in Watertown and Janesville.
The part of the project that seemed to draw the most concern was the roughly 300 single-family homes that would transition toward the Sugar River. Developer representatives indicated the size of the development is mainly because the landowner was unwilling to subdivide the land.
That eats up a lot of the planned business park, forces an unusual “payment in lieu of taxes” because the company is a faith-based nonprofit and brought up a question of affordable housing from council representative Ald. Sarah Gaskell (Dist. 2).
Her “sticking point” prompted Chad Wuebben, CEO of Encore Construction, which is partnering on the project, to step up to the podium and say affordable housing is his “passion” and he’d be “all for it” if it can be done.
Developers indicated the project is driven by an unmet market condition, rather than the location, but other locations that are development ready were too expensive.