Ranch Road homes put out to pasture
Neighbors pack meeting to oppose development

By Gary Achterberg - News Graphic Staff

Sept. 14, 2017

The parcel that was eyed for 13 homes was south of the Milwaukee River and north of Ranch Road.
Image courtesy of Google Maps

MEQUON — For the past month, Tuesday’s looming Common Council meeting over a planned 13-home subdivision on Mequon’s Ranch Road was building up to be a verbal Shootout at the OK Corral.

The city’s Planning Commission Aug. 7 approved rezoning for the development 5-3 despite a room full of neighbors, who argued the land is prone to flooding and inappropriate for such a large project. In the past month, as the plans advanced, they took sharper aim.

One opponent put together a 26-page-long packet stating their case. All aldermen received it, along with a flurry of emails and letters that led up to Tuesday’s showdown with the Common Council. Residents – mostly opposed – filled the council chambers. Howard Schlei, an organizer of the opposition, presented petitions with 239 signatures. During an hour-long public hearing, 13 came to the podium to voice their opposition; two, including the developer’s wife, spoke in support.

Developers Fred Bersch and Paul Apfelbach represented longtime landowners as they requested the parcel be rezoned from a C-3 conservation zoning to R-3 – a single-family, one-acre category – on the 21-acre property in the 2100 block of West Ranch Road.

At the outset, Mayor Dan Abendroth surveyed the room.

“Please try to be brief and to the point so we don’t all die sitting here,” he quipped, eliciting chuckles.

After the residents had their say, city staff provided an outline of the project and studies about water runoff from the property. The developers’ presentation included a measuring stick marked with various elevations that nearly touched the ceiling. Aldermen then discussed the issue, considered a possible compromise and voted.

When the smoke cleared, they rejected the rezoning request 4-3. Aldermen Glenn Bushee, Mark Gierl and John Hawkins favored rezoning. Aldermen Rob Strzelczyk, Dale

Mayr, Kathleen Schneider and Andrew Nerbun voted no. Alderman John Wirth recused himself and was not present for the hearing, debate or vote.

Even though the plan died on a simple majority vote, it would have required a three-quarters vote of the Common Council to pass because residents had filed a protest petition with the city.

During the public hearing, Jay Schauer, who lives 2-1/2 blocks away, said the city should heed recent severe weather events around the nation.

“What did we learn? You can’t take what Mother Nature gives you and try to alter it and beat it,” he said. “I don’t care what the reports say; this area floods. … The studies may show all kinds of great stuff, but take it with a grain of salt. We live there. We know what’s going on.”

In addition to the developer’s wife, Bob Arnold spoke in favor of the project. He has lived in Mequon for 55 years and has watched it grow.

“This plan is perfect for Mequon; it is not a subdivision, it’s an extension of a neighborhood,” he said. “These improvements can be made. I think we have two developers who are not here to hurt or harm the neighborhood, but would like to improve it.”

During the developers’ presentation, Bersch said he and Apfelbach are concerned with flooding in the area and have worked with engineers and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to make sure there are no adverse impacts on the neighborhood.

The developers argued the parcel was incorrectly placed in conservation zoning – which would limit it to no more than six lots – after a similar controversy over a development 20 years ago. He said the homes will be 7 to 9 feet above the flood elevation and should have the R-3 one-acre zoning like the surrounding neighborhood.

“Other parcels were not given conservation zoning, even though they had similar attributes,” he said.

During their discussion, aldermen staked out turf on both sides.

Gierl said he walked the property Saturday with one of the developers.

“That water comes off of this parcel; it’s higher and dryer and it flows downward. I don’t see how it can add to your drainage problems where you’re at,” he said. “It is a buildable area.”

Abendroth – the mayor does not vote with the Common Council except to break a tie – said he was an alderman 20 years ago when the property was rezoned. It was the right thing to do, he said.

“If you look at this land, it looks more like a Caribbean island than it does developable land,” Abendroth said. “I would say it’s environmentally sensitive. I would say it’s developable under the C-2 (conservation zoning). I don’t think you should more than double the density of the development.

“All of the good things Fred and Paul talk about can be done on a property with six lots instead of 12 lots,” he added.

Bushee, who joined the Common Council in April and represents the area, attempted a compromise. He offered an amendment to make the rezoning contingent on limiting the site to 10 lots.

That passed unanimously, but it didn’t make any difference. Aldermen turned next to the main motion and shot it down.

Email: gachterberg@conleynet.com

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