If it gets approved and built as planned, a 93-unit “affordable” apartment complex known as River Flats would rise five floors above the downtown intersection of Franklin Street and Laurel Avenue and offer rents its developer said would be tailor-made for a segment of the population with “low to moderate” income.
During a neighborhood meeting Tuesday, Daniel Kroetz, vice president of development for Commonwealth Companies, said renters, depending on their income, could typically expect to pay between $385 and $975 a month for an 850-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment.
At that price, Kroetz said, the apartments’ renters could expect an onsite management office, a fitness facility, a laundry room and about 89 parking spaces, Kroetz said. Many of the parking spaces would be underground in the sloped ground floor of the building.
Renderings of the L-shaped, red-and-tan brick apartment building on display Tuesday showed some upper units with balconies. Kroetz and city planning officials also answered questions from residents, adjacent apartment property managers, and members of the city’s Community Development Authority and plan commission, which has yet to vote on the proposal.
If there are no delays in the approval process, the apartment complex could break ground next spring and could be ready for occupancy by mid-2021, Kroetz said.
Commonwealth Companies would operate River Flats with the help of a federal tax credit the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority awarded the developer earlier this year. The program would require residents to earn no more than 30% to 80% of the local median salary in Rock County.
The tax credit rules require the apartments to operate as affordable housing for at least 30 years, Kroetz said.
Under the program, some of the units would be rented for less than $400 a month for a segment of the working population that earns up to 30% of the median local income.
The application process would include screening applicants based on income. The tax credit program is designed to require that the average single person who rents at River Flats has an income no greater than $32,000 a year—about 60% of the median for Rock County.
While the apartment’s management would work with local nonprofits and agencies that pair residents in need with affordable housing, Kroetz said the apartments wouldn’t accept federal Section 8 housing vouchers.
“The affordable housing program sometimes carries a stigma that it doesn’t deserve,” Kroetz said. “We want this to be a workforce housing deal and we want it to hit a number of income strata.”
Duane Cherek, the city’s planning director, said the project must face public hearings and review by the plan commission for a “conditional use.” The commission must also review the plans under the current zoning standards for downtown multifamily housing.
Cherek called such reviews “fairly routine” but said that the city and developer are in talks over one facet of the project that might require special consideration—parking.
Under zoning rules for downtown apartments, the city requires about 1½ parking spaces per apartment unit downtown. For the 93 planned units, that would require about 140 parking spaces. The current plans for River Flats include just 89 on-site spaces, well short of the city’s requirement, Cherek said.
That shortfall concerned some residents at the meeting. One woman who characterized herself as a nearby resident asked Kroetz why Commonwealth didn’t plan a smaller complex.
Commonwealth initially floated a 60-unit building to be built mainly on land the city was selling the developer for $1, but the company said it increased to 93 units because the smaller project wouldn’t have been financially workable under the state’s affordable housing tax program.
Resident Ty Bollerud asked if the city would reconfigure parking along Laurel Avenue, a side street that would be adjacent to River Flats. Bollerud said that might prevent residents and visitors at River Flats from clogging up spots throughout downtown’s west side, where he said parking is already in short supply.
Cherek said the city was examining such ideas. He said on-site parking capacity is one of many zoning standards the project must meet, but he suggested the plan commission has the authority to make concessions on parking standards.
City council member Sue Conley said “it doesn’t really bother me” that River Flats’ plan fails to meet city parking standards.
Conley said the standards don’t factor in a trend toward fewer car owners in the future and said that makes the standards “maybe not as realistic as they were 15 or 20 years ago.”