01STOCK_JANESVILLE_WATERTOWER

JANESVILLE

A nonprofit group’s proposal to build affordable small homes in part of a city park has yet to be formally submitted to the city of Janesville. Neighbors who live near the park are already taking a stand against the plan.

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About half a dozen residents who live near River Valley Park on Kellogg Avenue have already circulated a petition opposing nonprofit agency Community Action’s plan to build three transitional houses that would be located in the park.

The three single-story houses, as Community Action presents them, would sit side by side in the northern section of the park while the rest would remain parkland.

The homes would be built using affordable housing funds from the city and are intended for tenants at risk of homelessness because of a critical shortfall in local affordable housing that has left Janesville with rental vacancy rates of just 1%, Community Action officials said.

During a neighborhood meeting Thursday, residents—most of them longtime neighbors of River Valley Park—said they and more than 40 other neighbors who signed their petition oppose the location of the proposed project.

The neighbors said they’re against the project because it would eliminate a half acre of parkland they fought hard for before. They say neighborhood children have played ball and flown kites there for decades.

“You have to watch your parkland and hang on to your parkland. Once you let it go … it’s gone. You’re not getting it back,” nearby resident Bob Thomas said.

In 2000, nonprofit Habitat for Humanity proposed using the same piece of parkland to build affordable housing. Connie Steinke, one of the residents who spearheaded the petition against Community Action’s proposal, said she also opposed the proposal to convert the park space in 2000.

Back then, the city council decided to indefinitely table a decision to transfer the park space to a housing project.

For four decades, Steinke said she has lived near the south end of the park—an area that once housed a former school that Community Action used as offices until the building was demolished in 2009.

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Ever since that land was cleared, neighbors have enjoyed a larger park space. Now, Steinke said, only a few years after the city placed playground equipment in the southern part of the park, the northern portion is again being eyed for housing development.

Steinke said she has nothing against Community Action or the city’s efforts to build affordable housing. She and other residents at the meeting said they wonder why the city can’t find another location that is not parkland.

“It’s about taking parkland. Someplace else that’s on an open (residential) lot, that’s fine. If it was across the street from me, I’d be OK with you putting up the three houses,” she said. “I want it on land that isn’t a city park. That’s what we’re trying to make you understand.”

Community Action’s Development and Planning Director Marc Perry said the city and Community Action consider the park ideal because it would allow the three structures to be clustered together.

He and Community Action Executive Director Cecilia Dever pointed out that “two thirds” of the park, including the playground equipment, would remain.

Dever said Community Action thinks the remaining parkland would be a nice amenity for tenants of the small, two-bedroom homes.

Perry said River Valley Park is an optimal location because it is close to a city bus stop and the Rock County Job Center, which many of Community Action’s clients use for services.

Perry said there are several other parks that are within a half-mile walk from the neighborhood. Removal of a half-acre park, he said, wouldn’t leave residents with a critical shortage of park space.

To become a reality, the project first would need a recommendation from the city’s plan commission. Transfer of part of the park, which the city owns, requires city council approval, city Housing Services Director Kelly Bedessem said.

Community Action has had an architect draw up plans for the 600-square-foot small homes but otherwise has not given a formal proposal to the city.

Bedessem said the project could be submitted for review by the plan commission and the council in November.

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