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Briar Crest neighbors bristle over rental development proposal

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, August 9, 2017

JANESVILLE—Full details aren't yet public, but some residents already are bristling at a developer's plans to build an apartment complex next to a long-established subdivision on the city's northeast side.

Waunakee developer Bill Ranguette plans a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, Aug. 15, for residents who live in Briar Crest, an upscale subdivision off East Rotamer Road, to offer details on his plans for a 19-building, “market rate” rental property development just west of the subdivision.

Officials from the city Planning Services Department said preliminary “conceptual” designs Ranguette submitted to the city show the rental complex would be built at 2990 E. Rotamer Road on a 10-acre parcel just west of Briar Crest subdivision between the subdivision and the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores along Deerfield Drive.

The parcel is a cornfield now, and it's long been viewed by neighbors as a buffer between Briar Crest subdivision and the big box stores to the west. If Ranguette gets a zoning change OK'd by the city and moves forward with his plan, he could build up to 19 two-story apartment buildings that would house four or five units each—about 93 rental units total—the city's planning department said.

Briar Crest resident Dave Durrant lives about 300 feet from the proposed rental complex. He said he and some of his neighbors don't like the idea of apartments being built next to the insular, quiet subdivision.

“We don't have streetlights. We don't have sidewalks. We don't have any of that stuff, and we like it that way. It's a subdivision with a country feel. And putting that (apartment development) over there is not a subdivision with a country feel. You know what I mean? It's just not what we want,” Durrant said.

David Rockenfield lives along Danbury Drive, and his backyard is adjacent to the proposed rental complex. He said some people on his street are worried that apartments could bring a glut of traffic.

Rockenfield and Katie Fischer, another neighbor near the proposed apartments, pointed out the parcel Ranguette wants to develop has only one outlet—a cutout along East Rotamer Road, just south of that street's intersection with Tanglewood Drive.

Fischer and Rockenfield said they're worried Ranguette or the city might try to buy one of a few lanes that cut into neighbors' properties along the west edge of Briar Crest. Neighbors now share those lanes as driveways.

If the lanes became easements and were connected to an apartment complex, Fischer and Rockenfield suggested, it could allow traffic from the apartments to funnel straight into their neighborhood.

Based on what they know about the project, Rockenfield said he and others worry the rental complex would be a mismatched residential use that could lower property values in his subdivision.

“If they built upscale condos on a limited basis, there would probably not be as much objection to it. But what they're talking about is no small development. They're talking about a lot of apartments, and we're not interested in apartments,” Rockenfield said.

Rockenfield said Ranguette's mailer announcing the informational meeting he's hosting Aug. 15 doesn't give much information on his plans. Rockenfield said he and most of his neighbors plan to attend the meeting to learn more.

The Gazette was unable to reach Ranguette on Tuesday for further details, including whether he intends to build the complex all at once or in phases.

City planning associate Ryan Krzos said Ranguette has indicated in conceptual plans he'd develop the property with “market-rate rental units.”

That plan would require changes to the zoning for the parcel, Krzos said. The parcel is now zoned R-1, which allows single-family and double-family residences but not larger units.

Ranguette's proposal to build rental properties is not surprising, considering that the local housing market has been starving for apartments recently.

U.S. Census Bureau rental market data earlier this year showed Janesville rental vacancy rates in 2015 had dipped to a scant 2 percent—a plunge from 2009, when nearly 10 percent rental properties in Janesville was vacant.

Rental property managers are reporting months-long waiting lists for single rental units. That trend is alongside a real estate market in which the stock of available homes for sale is slim, and average home sale prices continue to rise to new highs.

Some local rental property owners, including city council member Douglas Marklein, earlier this year predicted market forces could likely spur a new apartment development in Janesville.

With limited parcels available in the city to build new housing, the question is where a set of new apartments could work.

As for Briar Crest, Rockenfield said almost all neighbors he's talked to have told him they oppose apartments being built on the parcel to the west.

“I've never talked to anybody here who wants this to happen,” Rockenfield said. “There will be blood in the water if they try to force this.”



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