Lake Country sees demand for multifamily housing
Residents increasingly want less maintenance, more flexibility

By Katherine Michalets - Special to The Freeman

November 2, 2014

Oconomowoc Alderman Charlie Shaw takes in the view from a second-story unit in The Worthington luxury apartment building in downtown Oconomowoc on Thursday.    
Katherine Michalets/Special to The Freeman

HARTLAND - Downtowns in Lake Country are going through a transformation with the addition of multifamily housing. The five-story The Worthington across from Oconomowoc’s new Community Center will be move-in ready Nov. 15, while a proposal for 90 units in three buildings along the Bark River in Hartland is being assessed by the village government.

Multifamily developments are being proposed elsewhere, too, such as the Village Square Apartments off Highways 16 and 83 in Delafield, which the Plan Commission was critical of Wednesday and for which it does not recommend approval.

What is drawing developers to build multifamily units in Lake Country and why do municipal governments approve them?


Changing real estate wants

A recurring observation from municipal administrators and developers is that both young and older people are in the market for apartments, either as a person looking to downsize from a large home on the lake to a young professional who doesn’t want the maintenance associated with a house, instead wanting to focus on work and a social life.

“There is a growing segment of the population that doesn’t want to be tied down,” Hartland Village Administrator David Cox said.

Delafield Mayor Michele DeYoe said she has heard from real estate agents that the trend is moving toward housing with a smaller footprint as people downsize or have two homes. She said she’s in that boat as well, an empty-nester who has a condo in Florida and doesn’t feel she needs her large house any more.

“People want flexibility with apartments and they want less maintenance,” she said.

The kitchens inside The Worthington units include stainless steel appliances, wood cabinets and granite countertops. Many of the 60 units have a view of downtown Oconomowoc or Lac La Belle.    Katherine Michalets/Special to The Freeman

A market study that was presented to the Delafield Plan Commission on Wednesday done by Baker Tilly indicated there was a total 1.9 percent vacancy rate when analyzing 18 multifamily housing developments with 1,746 units in Delafield, Pewaukee, Hartland, Oconomowoc and Sussex.

“Clearly there is a demand,” DeYoe said. “Sounds like if you build it, it will come.”

Another recent study by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, Cox said, found there was a housing disparity in Lake Country with not enough affordable housing available.

Multifamily housing is a way to address that, he said.

Final work was being done on the interior and exterior of The Worthington on Thursday in downtown Oconomowoc. The building is pictured from Worthington Street.
Katherine Michalets/Special to The Freeman

Developers have told Cox it’s hard to construct a single-family home that is considered affordable housing due to the costs of materials.


Multifamily and other residential projects also have an increased focus on offering bike paths, green spaces and paths to connect them to the community.

With the recently approved Wells Street Station in downtown Delafield, the discussion on the Plan Commission and Common Council was about what kind of paths should be incorporated into the apartment development.

Cox said similar discussions have occurred in Hartland regarding a proposed three-building apartment and retail development off East Capitol Drive called Riverwalk Apartments and the approved single-family residential development called the Sanctuary of Hartland off Main Street.

Including pathways in developments creates more foot traffic to local businesses.

Cox also said people’s desires are changing and they want to be able to live in a place from which they can walk to stores, restaurants and parks.

“(It’s about) creating an energy in the downtown and bringing people in to do that,” he said.

Getting the right fit

Two multifamily projects near downtown Delafield have already been built - Delafield Woods and Delafield Lakes - both by Joe McCormick, whose Village Square Apartments did not get approval from the Plan Commission on Wednesday.

McCormick did not return a call Friday. According to the website for Delafield Lakes, “We are located in the heart of downtown Delafield, WI, in a peaceful atmosphere that compliments your active lifestyle. This quaint community is surrounded by beautiful lakeside scenery and nature trails.”

With the Village Square Apartments, commissioners did not feel the development was the right fit for the area. DeYoe said Friday that in her opinion, the development would have made for a good transition from retail to multifamily and then to single-family.

Hartland is still determining if McCormick’s proposed Riverwalk Apartments is the right addition for downtown. The proposal calls for a three-story building with 32 units and 30 underground parking stalls, another three-story building with 42 units and 37 underground parking stalls and a third two-story building that would have retail on the first floor and 15 apartment units on the second level.

McCormick is also seeking city assistance through $1.6 million in funds as part of tax incremental district No. 4 and the transfer of village-owned property that was assessed at about $450,000 at the time the village bought the land, but the buildings there have since been torn down.

With planning, the village needs to take into consideration its comprehensive plan, which calls for 60 percent single-family dwellings and 40 percent multifamily dwellings, including townhomes and duplexes.