The Janesville Plan Commission might soon get a chance to fix the mistake it made two years ago, when it derailed a proposal that would have brought Janesville desperately-needed, market-rate housing.
Beloit developer Zach Knutson wants to build on the same strip of land near the Briar Crest subdivision on the city’s northeast side, which the plan commission in 2017 declared off limits to a 95-unit apartment complex. The commission at the time sided with several Briar Crest residents who claimed the city made a “promise” many years earlier to preserve the land’s R1 zoning designation, meaning only single-family homes could go there.
To its credit, the city administration never conceded a “promise” had been made and recommended the plan commission rezone the area to prepare for the project. Unfortunately, the not-in-my-backyard passions prevailed.
Today, the plan commission must prepare for a new request to rezone part of the land from R1 to R1D, which would allow two-family housing. The proposal represents a compromise from the failed 2017 plan. This one includes a buffer of single-family housing facing the Briar Crest neighborhood and duplexes adjacent to two big-box stores, Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Wedged between single-family homes and a commercial center, the land is ideally suited for rental housing. That Knutson’s proposal includes some single-family homes should come as a relief to Briar Crest residents, and they should think twice about opposing a developer who’s making an effort to accommodate people’s fears about living next to a rental development.
Should Briar Crest residents fight this proposal and win as they did in 2017, they might regret it in another five or 10 years. Eventually, these parcels will get developed. They’re not going to remain a cornfield forever. If Knutson’s bid fails, the next developer to peddle a proposal might care less about the neighbors’ concerns.
Briar Crest residents probably don’t view Janesville’s housing crunch as their problem. But as land and housing prices continue to climb, the land near Briar Crest will become only more attractive to developers. Residents’ objections will carry less weight as the dollars signs get bigger and pressure increases on the city to take action.
The plan commission’s rejection of the 2017 proposal on the spurious “promise” claim has had consequences for the city. Those 95 apartments would have expanded the city’s housing stock at a critical time amid 1% vacancy rates. Instead, the city is still waiting on the completion of a major housing project, even as other housing proposals have entered the pipeline.
Knutson met Thursday with Briar Crest residents about his proposal, and their response was encouraging. There was no immediate backlash, though it’s too early to say whether residents would fight the proposal once it reaches the plan commission.
We hope the commission exercises better judgment this time by maintaining its focus on the city’s housing needs as opposed to the preferences of a select group of neighbors.