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Apartment plans would add downtown dwellers

JANESVILLE

For the last decade, Janesville architect and developer Mick Gilbertson has been edging toward redevelopment of three storefront properties along the west end of West Milwaukee Street.

Gilbertson’s goal is to rework the storefronts at 415-419 W. Milwaukee St. to accommodate two spacious, upstairs apartments. They’d be two-bedroom, two-bath units with 17-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, upper-floor lofts, spiral stairs, built-in parking and an enclosed courtyard.

The plan could begin to roll out late this year. It wouldn’t create a boom in new apartment spaces downtown, but it would revitalize part of a block plagued for years by long-term vacancy.

Gilbertson and others plan a handful of projects that would add downtown apartment units as called for by an urban planning consultant a few years ago.

Some say they’re hoping to capture momentum from millions of dollars of public-private revitalization projects downtown. Others say the projects could help fill a shortage of available housing, apartments included.

Besides Gilbertson’s plan, two other downtown apartment proposals have become public in the last few months:

  • A proposal by a developer in August for a new, 60-apartment, mixed use Corner Block on Parker development at Parker Drive and Wall Streets. The project would include underground parking and co-working office space on the first floor.
  • A $300,000 revamping and rebranding of the 47-unit, former Cotton Mills Apartments on North Franklin Street announced last month by the apartments’ new owner.

The three projects in the next few years could bring at least 75 to 80 new or rehabbed apartment units to the rental market downtown, all within a few blocks of the downtown’s riverfront.

A survey the city commissioned in 2014 for the ARISE riverfront revitalization strategy estimated Janesville might need about 20 new apartment units downtown over the next decade.

In 2014, Janesville’s housing market and overall economy were just starting to show signs of recovery. Now, four years later, the housing market for both rental properties and existing homes has become among the tightest in decades.

The Wisconsin Realtor’s Association said that as of last month median sale prices for existing homes in Rock County had jumped 11 percent compared to the first nine months of 2017. The average existing home sale price in Rock County ranges between $155,000 and $160,000, up from about $120,000 in 2014.

The climb is largely linked to a continued “limited supply” of existing homes for sale, the Realtors Association said in a release.

Local economic development officials have said there’s a similar crunch for rental properties. It has spurred the city this year to entertain using tax incremental financing incentives to spur development of apartments in Janesville, including downtown.

City Economic Development Director Gale Price said the city hasn’t done a rental market study since the 2014 ARISE survey, but a lot has changed in four years.

“When you look at that (2014) study, the thought was the city wasn’t quite ready (for more downtown apartments). But the market and the overall economy has significantly, significantly changed,” Price said. “It’s kind of crazy how things have fallen in place.”

Under current market conditions, Price said, it’s feasible the city could see as many as 110 additional apartment units come online in the next few years, either through redevelopment or new construction.

Right now, Price said, the city is looking at six proposals for apartment projects. Three of the projects could occur downtown, he said.

Price said the proposals throughout the city range from market-rate apartments to projects that would make use of “low-income tax credits.”

For downtown property owners and developers, housing market forces are dovetailing with millions of dollars in public and private projects to revitalize Janesville’s riverfront.

Gilbertson hopes he can steer a few tenants toward a niche he’s creating downtown.

Over the last year, he’s altered earlier concepts he’d hatched as the Great Recession set in but then shelved for years. He’s arrived at a plan for two apartments with 1,300 square feet of mainly open space. That’s spacious, Gilbertson said, compared to most over-storefront apartments in the downtown.{/span}

Justin Spaulding, who bought the former Cotton Mills apartments in September, expects his renovations at the apartments will draw at least eight to 10 new tenants in the next few months.

Spaulding has renamed the Cotton Mills the Signature 23 Apartments.

The Cotton Mills recently had been about 30 percent vacant, Spaulding said. But some units he’s renovated this month already have new tenants signed. Spaulding said two new tenants he’s signed are local professionals with yearly incomes between $60,000 and $85,000.

“Signature 23, it’s so unique with the really historic feel, big windows and high, 10-foot ceilings. We bring them in, and they see the natural light, how tall the ceilings are. That sells them right away,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding decided to buy the former Cotton Mills because he saw a surge in revitalization and redevelopment projects underway this year along the downtown’s riverfront.{span class=”print_trim”}(tncms-asset)fd31a1e4-4478-5ebd-ba2b-e556dc0c76c4[0](/tncms-asset)

Spaulding views downtown’s revitalization as a door opening to draw “young families and young professionals” to a city center that’s adding new amenities and has a growing focus on being pedestrian-friendly.

Online listings for “soon-to-be-available” units at Signature 23 show rents ranging from $650 to $850, depending on the size and number of bedrooms and bathrooms. One recent post on Spaulding’s Instagram account show he’s leased one of the larger units at Signature 23 for $1,045 a month.

Brent Dahlstrom, a developer proposing the 60-apartment Corner Block on Parker, estimated the development might have “market rate” rents between $700 and $1,500 a month.

On the high end, rents of $1,000 to $1,500 a month appear to be in a different class than average rents detailed in the 2014 ARISE survey. That survey showed average monthly rents downtown ranged between $600 to the about $700—some of the lowest rents in the city.

Spaulding believes he’s well-positioned to compete because his renovations—new parking lots, replacing of flooring, repainting, and upgrading of cabinets and fixtures—are less expensive than building new apartments.

Lancaster Investments of Madison, one of the development groups who proposed the Corner Block on Parker apartments, didn’t respond this week to a Gazette inquiry. The developers as of yet have not made full project plans public.


Crime
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Walworth County deputy, shooting victim identified

ELKHORN

An Elkhorn man has been identified as the victim of Thursday’s fatal shooting by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy.

Sean A. Dutcher, 38, of Elkhorn was the man killed by the deputy, according to a sheriff’s office news release issued Tuesday afternoon.

The deputy who shot Dutcher was Peter Wisnefsky, 28, who has worked for the sheriff’s office since February 2016, according to the release.

Wisnefsky has been placed on administrative duty, which is standard practice after an officer-involved shooting.

Dutcher was on extended supervision after release from prison in May 2017, according to the news release. He had been in prison for a fifth-offense intoxicated driving conviction in Walworth County in 2016, according to online court records.

Dutcher lived in Janesville in February 2016 when he was arrested in Delavan on the intoxicated-driving charge, according to a criminal complaint.

Dutcher died at the scene Thursday night. He had been driving an SUV and had been reported as a reckless driver originating in Waukesha County, according to the release.

Deputies located the vehicle and tried to stop it at Highway 12/67 and Potter Road near the Elkhorn city limits, but the vehicle did not stop and deputies began chasing it, according to the release.

Deputies made numerous attempts to stop the vehicle during the pursuit, and it finally did stop at about 10 p.m. Thursday, according to the release and a previous statement.

Wisnefsky got out of his squad; Dutcher drove toward the deputy, and that’s when Wisnefsky fired and hit Dutcher, according to the release.

The SUV then crashed into an industrial building, nearly hitting a worker inside, officials said previously.

The state Division of Criminal Investigations and the Walworth County Medical Examiner’s Department are investigating the shooting, which is standard procedure, according to the release.

The state immediately sends representatives to the scene of officer-involved shootings, providing independent oversight throughout the investigative process, according to the release.

The Walworth County District Attorney’s Office also participates in the investigation and conducts a legal analysis of the shooting, according to the release.

Elkhorn police were also involved in the pursuit, and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office “greatly assisted” state investigators, according to the release.

A GoFundMe page has been started to help Dutcher’s family pay funeral costs.


Education
Janesville School District passes budget with lowest tax rate in nearly 10 years

JANESVILLE

The tax rate for the Janesville School District is the lowest it has been since 2010—even with increased spending and less state aid than the district received that year.

On Tuesday, the Janesville School Board passed a budget only slightly different than the preliminary one it approved in August.

School district residents will be taxed at a rate of $8.51 per $1,000 of equalized value.

That’s a decrease of 2.1 percent over last year’s rate of $8.69 per $1,000.

Spending is up to $121.55 million, an increase of 2.2 percent from last year.

The tax rate can decrease despite the new spending because property values in the school district are rising. There is also more new construction, which expands the property tax base.

The budget reflects the school district’s priorities. In particular, it shows an effort to address what district administration refers to as the “Five Promises.”

The promises are a set of five-year goals in areas such as student achievement, graduation rates, staff retention and fiscal responsibility.

In an email to The Gazette, district spokesman Patrick Gasper outlined some of the budget items that address some of the promises.

  • After Act 10’s passage in 2011, the district’s textbook adoption cycle was nearly abandoned. In the 2018-19 budget, the district is returning resources to classrooms with new curriculums in middle school social studies and high school math and Spanish.
  • Every middle school and high school student will have his or her own Chromebook to use in school.
  • Creative planning with school district employee benefits has allowed the district to maintain its level of service for health insurance while achieving cost savings, which were returned to the classroom.

The school district has also implemented a new salary structure that rewards longevity while also requiring specific forms of ongoing professional development. The training, which includes in-district workshops and more formal schooling, must be in line with the district’s academic goals.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Keith Pennington, the district’s chief financial officer, told the board that the school district’s tax rate was one of the lowest in the county. Only Milton has a lower tax rate.

In addition, Janesville’s tax rate is lower than that of many wealthier metropolitan school districts such as Madison and Verona.


Obituaries and death notices for Oct. 24, 2018

Diana Lynn Carpenter

Harold “Slip” Dickman

Charles L. Ferguson

Phyllis Garbrecht

Merilyn Mitchell

Joy Helen Ohmstead

Ollie E. Perry

Robert J. “Bob” Quinn

Margaret “Peg” Richardson

Darrell K. Stickney

Rollin “Rollie” Wescott

James D. Williams

Phyllis M. Williams