191117_BRIAR01

A Beloit developer wants to build homes and duplexes on a cornfield behind Walmart in Janesville.

JANESVILLE

A Beloit developer wants to build single-family homes and duplexes on a cornfield that has attracted controversy in recent years.

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Zach Knutson of Next Generation Construction in Beloit wants to develop 10 acres of cornfield behind Walmart and Sam’s Club adjacent to the Briar Crest Meadows neighborhood, he said.

It is the same parcel where a developer in 2017 proposed building 19 five-unit apartment buildings and was met with passionate opposition from residents in the neighborhood.

The 2017 plan never made it past the city’s plan commission, but Knutson thinks his idea is different and makes sense for everyone.

Under Knutson’s plan, the half of the parcel closest to the neighborhood would host single family homes. The half closest to Walmart and Sam’s Club would host duplexes, he said.

A community member in 2017 told the plan commission he and others did not support the apartment project because when the city negotiated for the land that was eventually developed into Walmart 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.

Commission members agreed with the neighbor and unanimously chose to shut the project down by not approving a request to rezone.

Knutson will need the plan commission to approve rezoning a portion of the parcel before he can build duplexes.

The duplexes would act as a buffer between the single-family homes and retail stores, which Knutson believes is aligned with what neighbors asked for in 2017, he said.

Brian Schweigel, senior planner for the city, said Knutson’s plan is for low-density housing.

A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Thursday so Knutson can share his plans with the neighborhood and gather feedback before submitting plans for city review, Schweigel said.

“In reality, I am very aware of concerns of the neighborhood,” Knutson said. “I am local, and I want to develop it and want to try to come to a plan that makes sense for everyone.”

City staff will attend the neighborhood meeting to answer questions about the public review process, Schweigel said.

The land behind Walmart is attractive because it is close to walking trails, Interstate 90/39 and retailers, Knutson said.

The city’s concern about a lack of available housing motivated Knutson to pursue the plan, he said.

Knutson characterizes his business as a semi-custom production builder. If his plan is approved, Knutson said some homes would be built on speculation and some would be pre-sold.

The market would dictate how the duplexes are managed, Knutson said.

His business has a property management division, but he has not yet completed a business plan to determine who would own or manage the buildings.

The project would be privately funded without public incentives, Knutson said.

Knutson hopes to start construction in spring.

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