Janesville Plan Commission shuts down apartment development

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Jake Magee
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

JANESVILLE—The cornfield between the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores and the Briar Crest subdivision on Janesville's northeast side won't be turned into apartments anytime soon.

The Janesville Plan Commission on Monday shot down a plan to develop 19 five-unit apartment buildings on a 10-acre parcel off East Rotamer Road. With the commission's unanimous 6-0 vote, the matter won't go before the Janesville City Council, city attorney Wald Klimczyk said.

That was good news to the more than 30 Briar Crest neighbors who showed up to voice opposition to the development. The residents, who have concerns with apartments instead of houses being built in the area, applauded the commission's decision.

The plan commission first considered a resolution that would have altered the city's comprehensive plan to allow the parcel to be rezoned from R1, single- and double-family homes, to R3M, multi-family units. Had that resolution passed, the commission then would've voted on whether to rezone the parcel.

City staff recommended passing the resolution and rezoning the area to make way for the development.

By denying the resolution, the commission didn't vote on rezoning, effectively killing the development proposal.

The comprehensive plan calls for the area to remain zoned R1, but comprehensive plans are "living, breathing documents" subject to amendments to adjust to changing trends and demands, said George Brunner, commission chairman.

The handful of residents who spoke voiced concerns about traffic congestion, stormwater runoff, trash collection and more.

Associate city planner Ryan Krzos said the development would require traffic improvements.

Tanglewood Drive would have been extended south of East Rotamer Road to serve as an access driveway to the apartments. The timing of the traffic signals at the intersection of East Rotamer Road, Kettering Street and Deerfield Drive to the west also would have been adjusted, Krzos said.

Residents said a single access road for the up to 93 families living in the 19 apartments wouldn't be enough during peak hours, such as mornings and evenings.

Traffic already bottlenecks at Kettering Street and Highway 26, and adding almost 100 families to the area would only make congestion worse, residents said.

"This is a real problem that I have seen," said commission member Jens Jorgensen. Jorgensen originally was excited for the development but opposed it once he learned how it would affect neighbors, he said.

Neighbor Fred Wesner, a local attorney who said he represented only himself, said during Monday's public hearing the issue wasn't about traffic congestion, stormwater runoff or light pollution concerns.

"It's about a promise that was made … that is not being honored," he said.

When the city negotiated for the land that was eventually developed into Wal-Mart and Sam's Club, the city promised to keep the 10-acre parcel zoned R1 to act as a buffer between Briar Crest and the businesses. Rezoning the area to R3M would break that promise, Wesner said.

Commission members almost immediately agreed. The one who struggled with the decision was commission member Doug Marklein, who called the vote "tough."

As a developer himself, Marklein said the proposed apartment development would be a great fit for the area. Not rezoning the area would mean the land likely wouldn't get developed for a long time and could end up as low-end houses instead of the upscale apartments proposed, he said.

Still, a promise is a promise, Marklein said. He voted with the rest of the commission to deny amending the comprehensive plan.

Waunakee developer Bill Ranguette, who would have spearheaded the project, spoke during the meeting to highlight his plans and credentials. Ranguette has developed projects ranging from $300,000 to $150 million and owns and operates apartments in Janesville valued at $7.7 million, he said.

"… I've been accused of being an outsider. I've very much invested in this city," Ranguette said.

Ranguette left the room when it became apparent from commission members' comments they would deny amending the comprehensive plan.

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