City: Development would bring almost $100K in new tax revenue
By Brandi Makuski
City Plan Commissioners on Monday voted to deny a conditional use permit for construction of a $2.5 million rental complex on the city’s east side.
The fate of the project now rests with the Stevens Point City Council.
The development is proposed for a small section of upland surrounded by wetland at the intersection of Badger Ave. and Hwy. 10, according to Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski. He described the units as “1400-square-foot townhome-type homes,” something he said was “sorely needed in the city”.
“It’s all private development, so there’s no city infrastructure needed here, no cost to the city,” Ostrowski said. “Those are the types of developments ideal for a city like ours because there’s nothing we need to do; they’d be responsible for all the plowing, garbage pickup, everything.”
The project, backed by Amherst-based Blenker Companies Inc., also includes a nearby office complex, where Stevens Point-based engineering firm Point of Beginning would relocate its headquarters. That 7,500-square-foot building would be located on the lot just north of Hwy. 10 and just east of The Store gas station on Badger Avenue.
The four-building townhome complex was estimated to generate $96,000 in new tax revenue for city coffers annually, but commissioners couldn’t get past concerns over potential increased traffic flow and the possibility of damaging wetlands that abut the property during the four hour-plus discussion on March 6.
Members of the public also voiced concerns about potential destruction of natural wetland habitat, and argued there were vacant or blighted lots elsewhere in the city which could be utilized for the project, even though Mayor Mike Wiza said that was beyond the city’s control.
“We can’t tell developers where to build,” Wiza said. “People come up to me all the time and say, ‘Build an Olive Garden’, but I can’t. We can encourage them to develop on certain properties, but we can’t force them to.”
Wiza also pointed out the proposed development was located on private property, and the property owners–Parkdale Development–could simply clear cut the entire lot if they wanted to.
“This development is not in a wetlands [area]; it’s very close to the wetlands,” Wiza said, adding the proposal was the “least intrusive” for the lot, adding a future City Council could approve a heavier-use for the space, causing irreversible damage to the wetlands.
“I would much rather have this low-impact housing use,” he said, adding the proposal would actually help protect the wetland.
But Wiza’s reasoning wasn’t enough to sway a majority of the Plan Commission, or the public.
Monica Lukasavige said her family built their home in 2002 just north of the proposed development because they believed it would be a quiet area, but soon after had to deal with the inconvenience, noise and debris from the construction of a nearby soccer field; then new apartment homes on Songbird Lane.
“If these things were to be built…the congestion is bad enough now; I have to wait sometimes several minutes to go left on to Badger [Ave.] coming from Windy Drive,” she said. “To me, it’s dangerous.”
City resident Trevor Roark submitted his concerns in writing, urging commissioners to not act out of “fear of losing out to Plover”, accusing the village of using a “short-term gain approach” in its development, adding it was “extremely ugly” and had “no sense of place”.
“Leaving this land as undeveloped is the most protected thing that can be done now and in the future for wildlife, for storm water resilience, for groundwater recharge,” Roark’s letter read in part. “Why can’t these two developments be moved to the central [part of] the city, where it’s more consistent with the infill goals of the 2006 comprehensive plan?”
District 1 candidate Tori Jennings also spoke out against the project.
“These kinds of projects always sounds great upfront,” said Jennings, who referred to herself as “pro-development in the right place”. “While it sounds great, and it’s not going to cost the city any money upfront, these kinds of developments cost cities down the road…it’s what Chuck Morrow refers to as a ‘Ponzi scheme’.”
Jennings also criticized the bevy of letters supporting the project sent to Wiza’s office–more than 100–which she called “form letters with rearranged paragraphs”, saying their call to have the proposal quickly approved was suspicious.
“It makes me wonder, since there’s a housing survey currently being assessed, will that housing survey undermine this project in some way? I find that rather curious,” she said.
“Those of you who know me, know I’m extremely conservation-oriented,” Wiza told the commission prior to the vote. “I can’t force someone to do something; if I could, that Lullaby site would be developed right now. Developers choose on their needs, their beliefs, their cash flow. I can’t fault them for that. We try to develop for the right reasons; but we should also deny developments for the right reasons. Make sure the reasons are valid, not just, ‘I think, I feel’.”
But Wiza was in the minority on the proposal. He was joined by Commissioner Dave Cooper, who also voted against denying the permit, and Council President Mike Phillips, who pointed out the project was actually saving the wetlands.
“We’re not even touching the wetlands,” Phillips said. “We need development in this city…or [are] we willing to have our taxes go up? We’ve always stifled projects, and our tax base is going away–they’re going to Plover.”
The conditional use permit was denied by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Anna Haines, Bob Brush, Dan Hoppe, Gary Curless and Mary Kneebone voting against.
The measure can still be approved, according to Wiza, by the City Council at its March 20 meeting.