TOWN OF WAUKESHA
Residents want to shut gated community proposal
Cite concerns about possible impact on property values, noise, traffic

By Dave Fidlin - Special to The Freeman

August 11, 2017

TOWN OF WAUKESHA - It has been touted as a high-end development that could bring $25 million to the Town of Waukesha's tax base.

But nearby property owners shared a litany of concerns about a proposed 33-single unit gated community at The Legend at Merrill Hills. The potential development would encompass some of the existing Merrill Hills Country Club driving range on the north side of Sun Valley Trail and Oak Knoll Drive.

Jack Gaudion, co-owner of Merrill Hills, gave his initial pitch to town officials Thursday amid back-to-back Plan Commission and Town Board meetings.

When he began overseeing the venerable country club in 2013, Gaudion said, it was struggling financially from the prolonged affects of the economic downturn that resulted in at least a thousand country clubs closing across the U.S.

"We've put the club in a much better position," Gaudion said. "We've turned it around. It's back in its rightful position as a top club."

Springboarding off the renewed momentum, Gaudion said he is interested in developing the gated residential community, which would feature high-end condominiums for members of the country club.

Gaudion said interest in the would-be residential community has already been high. Seventy-nine club members were given priority if the project moves forward through a lottery system.

"We're going to bring high-value homes to this development with high standards," Gaudion said during his pitch.

Residents living beyond the gates of The Legend, however, have raised a range of concerns, including how the new development would impact their own property values. Other issues that have been raised include noise and traffic, particularly along Highway 59.

At the urging of Town Attorney John Macy, municipal officials did not directly take public comment while the proposal was discussed. But the concerned residents did sound off during a general public comment portion of the Town Board agenda.

"I picked a neighborhood that was quiet, on purpose," resident Dyann Harp said at Thursday's meeting.

Harp said she was concerned about the impact construction equipment would have on existing municipal infrastructure and also raised concerns about drainage.

Lori Barton also went up to the microphone and shared a unique perspective. Barton said her father sold the farmland on what today is the Merrill Hills golf course with the understanding it would not be developed.

"It's not something we want," Barton said, speaking on behalf of her family. "It's not something our dad wanted. This is really upsetting - not only for us, but for the neighbors. We need to be heard about this."

Macy and other town officials indicated multiple times during the meeting that residents will have a formal opportunity to offer up comments when the public hearing takes place.

Thursday's presentation was the first of multiple steps. The Plan Commission offered up several directives to Gaudion and others involved in the proposal.

"One thing I'd be interested in finding out is whether the petitioner would be fixing the (municipal) roads if they are damaged (during construction)," said Town Chairman John Marek, who heads up the Plan Commission.

Gaudion will likely return to the town in the near future with a range of additional details, including a lighting and landscaping plan for the proposed property, as well as civil engineering details that would touch on the drainage issues some nearby residents have raised.