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Our Views: Neighborhood wins but city loses

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Gazette Editorial Board
Friday, October 20, 2017

Of all people, Janesville City Council President Doug Marklein knows Janesville needs new rental housing. He owns Marklein Builders and understands better than most the dynamics of the city’s housing market.

But you don’t have to be a builder to appreciate how tight the rental market is.

A survey of landlords conducted by the city Neighborhood and Community Services Department last year found a vacancy rate of only 2.5 percent. Local tenants say quality rental housing is in short supply, while the best units are snatched up quickly amid long waiting lists.

It’s unfortunate, then, that Marklein joined five other plan commission members in rejecting a request Tuesday to begin the process of rezoning land on the northeast side to accommodate a 93-unit rental development.

The reason for opposing the rezoning of a 10-acre parcel between Wal-Mart and the Briar Crest subdivision was even more perplexing, supposedly hinging on documents containing a “promise” made years ago that the parcel would remain single- and double-family homes, R1. A neighbor and local attorney, Fred Wesner, claimed the city promised it would keep the parcel R1 to act as a buffer between Briar Crest and businesses.

But city staff, in its recommendation to the plan commission to rezone the area for rentals, makes no mention of this “promise.” Rather, the staff acknowledges the need for new apartments, noting that “local housing market conditions have changed” since the city zoned the 10-acre parcel as R1 years ago.

The documents cited by Wesner justify zoning the land R1 in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they don’t serve to guarantee the R1 designation forever.

Contrary to the neighbors’ complaints about living near apartments, a multifamily development would be an appropriate, if not ideal, use of land nestled between single-family housing and big-box retailers.

The neighbors seem to want this land to remain a cornfield forever because—let’s face it—it’s unlikely this land will fill up with the sort of single-family homes that these neighbors would tolerate.

If somebody has the money to build a new home in the current economic environment, why build next to a Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club? No offense to these stores, but the plan commission and Briar Crest need a reality check.

Perhaps one of the neighbors’ strongest arguments against the apartment development related to traffic impacts. But the city conducted a traffic study and found the existing transportation infrastructure, with a few tweaks, could handle the proposed development.

If apartments cannot work at this location, where can they be built in Janesville? A casual review of the city’s zoning shows there are few options for developers, such as Bill Ranguette, who has the contract to buy the 10 acres near Briar Crest.

To be clear about Ranguette’s intentions, he is proposing to build upscale, market-rate apartments, not low-income housing.

Marklein even warned at Tuesday’s meeting that, in rejecting the rezoning request, the city could be paving the way for the area to someday become low-income housing, albeit single- or double-family homes.

Without adequate housing, Janesville will lag behind its peers as companies and prospective employees seek out better housing elsewhere. This city needs business-minded people, such as Marklein, in leadership positions, but they must act on the city’s greater interests, not on NIMBY arguments put forth by neighborhood groups.



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