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Briar Crest neighbors still oppose apartments

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Neil Johnson
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

JANESVILLEMore than a few residents in the Briar Crest subdivision made it clear to a developer Tuesday that they're not thrilled about the prospect of an apartment development just west of them.

Neighbor Barb Berlowski said it was "painful" to think of the 10-acre strip of cornfield on Janesville's northeast side being rezoned to accommodate as many as 19 five-unit apartment buildings near her quiet, upscale neighborhood.

Others tried to get a showing of hands to see how many neighbors wanted the development.

During a meeting at the Holiday Inn Express, Waunakee developer Bill Ranguette sought to reassure neighbors that he'd build upscale, “house-like” apartments with 50-foot-wide courtyards, vaulted ceilings, two-car garages and rents in the $1,250 to $1,400 range—a price point he claimed would match mortgages he said some Briar Crest homeowners pay.

Those assurances, and drawings that showed easements that would place apartments 85 or 90 feet from the nearest houses, were enough to cause some neighbors to shush others who bombarded Ranguette with questions before he could finish his presentation.

But not all residents were swayed. Some of the 75 people in attendance pressed Ranguette and city officials for guarantees the developer wouldn't change his plans and build cheaper apartments once he got a zoning change.

“We all bought our property knowing what it was zoned. A change to that is painful,” Berlowski said. “It seems like we aren't going to have a say in this.”

The parcel Ranguette wants to develop has long been viewed as a buffer between Briar Crest and the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores to the west in Pine Tree Plaza.

Ranguette said he has only recently applied for a change in designation to the parcel's comprehensive land use. He said he has not yet filed for a zoning change the parcel would need for medium-density apartments.

Rezoning requires a plan commission public hearing and city council approval.

Ranguette plans to seek a change from the parcel's current zoning of single-family residential to a medium-density, multifamily classification.

If the city OKs it, he could build up to 19 two-story apartment buildings. Each building could house four or five units—about 93 rental units total, according to city planners.

It could be 10 weeks before the city has enough information from the developer to bring the plan to the plan commission or the council, Janesville Planning Services Manager Duane Cherek said Tuesday.

Ranguette said he initially plans to build only five or six of the apartment buildings over a year or more. He'd also continue developing the property as it becomes more clear what the local market might be for apartments with monthly rents of $1,400.

Local analysts have said for months that the local rental market is starving for new apartments.

Neighbors said they worry a high-volume apartment development could lower their property values and change the nature of their quiet, tucked-away subdivision.

Others said it could lead to traffic snarls along East Rotamer Road, which is tabbed as the only vehicle outlet for tenants of the proposed apartment complex.

Cherek acknowledged the project likely would require a traffic study.

At one point, Ranguette asked neighbors what he could do differently to make the project more palatable.

One man shouted that Ranguette should scale back the project to half the number of buildings he's proposing, which would make the development far less dense.

Another woman said she wants Ranguette to build single-family homes instead of rental properties.

Ranguette said he has no intention of ever developing single-family homes on the parcel.

“OK. Good-bye,” one man shot back, just before a handful of neighbors walked out of the meeting.



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