Pabst Farms Apartments project takes step forward
Council passes land use, zoning change for Mandel project

By Alex Nemec

Aug. 22, 2019

OCONOMOWOC — After nearly two hours of discussion by developers, the Oconomowoc Common Council and citizens, aldermen approved amending the city’s comprehensive land use plan to rezone 34 acres needed for the Mandel Group’s Pabst Farms Apartments project.

The vote was 4-3 in favor to change the land use plan with Aldermen Tom Strey, Matt Rosek and Karen Spiegelberg voting against.

The vote was 5-2 to rezone the area, with Rosek and Spiegelberg dissenting.

Alderman Andy Rogers was excused from the meeting.

The 315-unit project would be located on Valley Road just west of Summit Elementary in between the school and Old School House Road.

During Mandel Group’s proposal, Ian Martin, the vice president of development for the Mandel Group, said although the project would add 315 units, the traffic study Mandel Group provided said huge changes wouldn’t need to be made to Valley Road.

“When you look at the traffic study, it’s clear, this project does not create a traffic problem on Valley Road,” Martin said. “The traffic study suggests we make certain improvements such as a left turn lane into the site, which we are doing.”

One of the ways Mandel Group wanted to help alleviate traffic on Valley Road was to add a secondary entrance that would connect to either Old School House Road or Oconomowoc Parkway. Citizens and Rosek, the District 3 alderman, said they didn’t buy the argument.

Rosek cited those who live in the projects — if they are the commuters the developers say they are — aren’t going to go to Summit Avenue and sit at stop lights when they can instead use Highway P, which was one stop sign, to get on the interstate.

In addition, Rosek said the city’s land use plan is like a promise to citizens that what is around the house they buy won’t change — a promise he feels has not been kept to citizens in the Pabst Farms area.

“I don’t think this project is the best use of the land and when we have the land use plan and the zoning, that is the city’s promise to all the other residents that live there that is just isn’t in my backyard, I wouldn’t want it your backyard either,” Rosek said.

Alderman Lou Kowieski said the aldermen had to evaluate what was based on fact and could change the community for years to come.

“This past weekend was an extraordinary weekend … the fact of the matter is I don’t think an event like that comes together 10 years ago because our community was different 10 years ago,” Kowieski said. “What we evaluate today will change what our community looks like 10 years from now.”

Spiegelberg said she wasn’t ready to give up the piece of land yet and believed single-family, workforce housing was still the best use for the project.

“I’d like to see us pass on changing the land use plan, let’s see how the Wangard development plays out, the impact it has, consider other possibilities to develop the land on Valley Road,” Spiegelberg said.

Wangard’s project at the former Olympia Resort and Conference Center is slated to be apartments in the old hotel. However there has also been talk of putting single family homes on the property as well.

Stewart Wangard said he plans on bringing plans to the city around the end of September.

His development could also include the mall to the the south as part of the redevelopment of the Summit Avenue corridor.

Alderman Derek Zwart said when he first moved to his house on Pleasant Street, he had houses across the street from him, but after the city made improvements to the area to help the downtown, the neighbors left.

“Sometimes things have to change and the change is tough, but I think this is the best thing for our community in general,” Zwart said. “Maybe not for the people who live out there the perceived benefit isn’t there, but I think once it’s in there, they will be accustomed to it and won’t be a detriment to them.”

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