Zone change approved for Barton School property
Multi-family housing the goal of developer

By JOE VANDELAARSCHOT - Daily News

Dec. 2, 2015

Despite opposition from about 10 adjacent property owners, developers of a proposed multi-family housing development on the former Barton School property cleared two hurdles Tuesday night in their push to have the project become reality.

The Plan Commission approved changing the official land use designation for the property at 614 School Place in the city’s comprehensive plan from institutional to multi-family. In a second action, the commission approved changing the property’s zoning from I-1 Institutional, Public Service and RS-3 Single Family to RM-1 Multi-Family.

Fond du Lac-based Commonwealth Development Corp. agreed to purchase the school property from the West Bend School District earlier this year for $600,000. The developer submitted a concept to the city at an October meeting that included three six-unit townhouse apartments located in a grassy field to the west and northwest sections of the property as well as 22 units inside the former school.

Some citizens and a few commissioners took issue during the public hearing at City Hall with multi-family housing being built so close to single-family homes.

“I’m concerned about the proximity of the multi-family housing to the single-family,” Commissioner Jed Dolnick said. He voted against the comprehensive plan change and zoning change.

“This just doesn’t fit in the area,” said neighbor October Dymond. “I live within 200 feet of the school and bought my property there because it was an area mainly with single family homes. I’m concerned about the traffic and what having multiple housing units built nearby will do to my property value. If you were looking to buy a single family home, would you want it across the street from multiple-family housing units?”

Another neighbor, Dawn Luera, expressed the same opinion and said the best use of the land would be as a city park.

“That’s the first I’ve heard that the city needs more parks,” said Mayor Kraig Sadownikow.

Dolnick said the city doesn’t own the property, the school district does, and the city would have to come up with the money for buying the land.

“It’s not a property the city can turn into a park,” Dolnick said. “I’m uncomfortable, though, voting on this without having the final plan for the development.”

West Bend Assistant Director of Development Mark Piotrowicz said any local government that has to make such decisions has to have “a leap of faith” on what a developer is proposing because there’s no guarantee possible.

“The property has to be zoned for their use so they can get the needed financing,” Piotrowicz said. He said there can be conditions placed on the developer elsewhere in the process to meet officials’ and neighbors’ project concerns.

Neighbor John Schell also objected to the proposed development.

“I bought my house there about 25 years ago,” Schell said. “Building multi-family units on this property would be a great disservice to the people around there.” Schell also complained about additional traffic and more speeding drivers if the development is completed as proposed.

Commissioner Chris Schmidt said he’d love to see a park on the property, but the commission must consider what makes the most sense in this setting.

“I know nearby homeowners have concerns, but they can still be involved in having some of those concerns addressed during the hearing process,” Schmidt said.

After the two amendments were approved by the commission, members emphasized they would make every effort to make sure nearby residents are informed when the next public hearing will be scheduled regarding the final design plans.

Commonwealth Vice President of Development Kevin McDonell said after the vote it would be at least six months before any final design plans would be ready for a public hearing.

“We’ll send an application to WHEDA in January,” McDonnell said. “Once we know if the tax credits are available then we can move ahead.”

McDonnell said 15 percent of the development’s proposed units will be rented at the market rate with the remaining 85 percent rented on the basis of 60 percent of the county’s median income. He said the development would have an on-site manager once it’s completed.

City officials were told it’s highly unlikely a shovel of dirt could be turned on the project until next spring at the earliest.

Reach reporter Joe VanDeLaarschot at jvan@conleynet.com.