By Kevin Boneske
HOWARD – The village board voted 8-1 Aug. 23 to deny a request from Green Bay Community Church (GBCC) for a mixed-use development on property it owns near the corner of Cardinal Lane and Howard Commons.
Trustee Chris Nielsen was opposed.
The board’s action came a week after the Howard Plan Commission split 4-3 in favor of GBCC’s preliminary planned development request to have first-floor retail space, townhomes and apartments along the east side of Cardinal Lane, where single-family residential property is located nearby.
Community Development Director Dave Wiese said the proposal called for an apartment building with 36 units, and a mixed-use building with eight townhomes, 24 apartment units and 6,300 square feet of retail commercial space.
Because the proposal was in its conceptual stage, with two three-story buildings planned, Wiese said changes could be made, such as with overall site design, buffers to neighborhoods, building plans, floor elevations, etc.
Mark Ashley appeared in person before the board representing GBCC, while Eric Harmann of AG Architecture spoke remotely about modifications made to the proposal after receiving feedback at the commission meeting.
Harmann said the resident amenities were relocated to the northeast, to keep activity and any related noise further away from the residential area to the south.
He said two, two-story townhomes were moved further south.
Ashley said the purpose of the project is for GBCC “to pursue and do ministry even at another level, and to serve the community, serve Brown County at an entirely different level.”
“That’s the entire genesis of this idea,” he said. “It is not to profit. It’s entirely to facilitate the work of the church on another scale.”
Ashley said “meaningful changes” were made to the proposal since the commission meeting a week earlier.
“We heard the same kind of feedback back in September when we came here and we filed for a B-1 (Business designation) for rezoning,” he said.
GBCC’s proposal last year called for the development of a two- or three-story mixed-use building on the property to raise revenue to help support the church’s mission.
As proposed then, the building would have been divided between a first-floor commercial tenant and upper floors of residential housing.
The board rejected the rezoning request, which the commission also recommended denying.
Ashley said the property of the proposed development is in an LLC, which is not tax-exempt and subject to property taxes.
Rent figures presented with the latest proposal called for a one-bedroom apartment to cost $1,350 per month, plus utilities, with a two-bedroom apartment renting for $1,750 per month, plus utilities, and a townhome renting for $2,200 per month, plus utilities.
Ashley said GBCC’s LLC would decide what commercial ventures would go in the building.
“Anything that goes in that building is going to be reflective of the values of the church,” he said. “If we didn’t care about that, we’d sell the property, sell it to somebody who wants to develop it, but we aren’t interested in just that one-time win and letting go of something that can impact the community.”
After the board suspended the rules to allow the public to speak, neighbors to the project voiced their opposition.
Gretchen Berg, who lives near the proposed project site on Baleshare Road, said residential neighborhoods surround GBCC.
“The current proposed development of this property is definitely spot zoning, in our opinion,” she said. “There are no apartments or retail businesses on our side of the street (along Cardinal Lane) from Riverview (Drive) up to Glendale Avenue.”
Berg said she also opposed the project because it would have “two monstrous big-box, three-story buildings adjacent to our home, noise levels with residents possibly leaving 24/7 from the parking lot – this lot will also be visible from our property – also the significant drop in our property value and potential flooding with two, three-story buildings, parking lot and also the current wetland north of our home.”
If GBCC is looking for additional revenue to support its mission, Berg said it should obtain land elsewhere for its proposed development.
Amie Baragwanath, who lives on Pestwick Place, said her family purchased its first home there.
“The insertion of this three-story apartment building 30 yards from my back porch, and that of our neighbors, goes against everything we believed we’d gain by moving to this community,” she said. “The increase in traffic flow will seriously endanger the quiet residential street that we selected with our children in mind.”
Trustee Ray Suennen, who represents the area where the mixed-use development was proposed, spoke in opposition to the project.
Suennen said the proposed development is “inconsistent with the residential, single-family homes and duplexes.”
“This is a monster on that corner,” he said. “This is going to stick out gigantically, and it doesn’t portray a residential neighborhood. The building is total in disproportion in size to the community that surrounds it.”
Suennen said the village’s tax base is important, but with the proposed development, it is not a primary consideration.
“The proposal is to put monstrous buildings in the residential area, and the residents do not want it,” he said.
Suennen said the feedback he received from his constituents is a “total ‘no,’ that this is not wanted.”
“If the community church has problems with maintaining this property, if it’s too much property for what they need, that’s their problem,” he said. “Don’t make this building a problem for the residents in this neighborhood.”
Trustee Craig McAllister said the property isn’t big enough for what the proposal entails, with the height of the buildings being intrusive to the neighborhood.
“Everything that is tall and mixed-use is in more appropriate locations,” he said.
Other board members said they opposed the project because GBCC didn’t involve the community to come up with a plan to develop the property.
“The builders, the developers did not consult with the neighbors, because I agree with the three stories being way too high,” Trustee Adam Lemorande said. “I think something can definitely work in this area on an apartment level, but it looks like a lot crammed into one area.”
Trustee John Muraski said he believes “the church dropped the ball in not engaging with the community sooner.”
“I think you still have an opportunity to, but I think you let a couple of developments probably get out of your hands by not engaging with them sooner,” he said.
Ashley said GBCC wouldn’t want to move forward with a project without the community supporting it.
“There’s a possibility that we could remove the commercial entirely and make it a two-story (building) with residential,” he said. “We could limit the commercial maybe to one single space that maybe the community church actually executes. I think there are multiple paths forward. We are open to them, and I think we’ve demonstrated that.”
Wiese said next month, GBCC could submit another plan “significantly different” to the one the board rejected.
“If it was a strict rezoning… to go from R-1 to B-1, and you got denied, then they’d have to wait six months,” he said. “If you’re going to look at some significantly different proposal, they could come back on every month from as long as they keep paying for the advertising.”