EL apartment proposal hits roadblock

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

ELKHART LAKE – A plan to create an affordable housing development on the former Braun’s Ranch property has been stalled by the village, and the developers aired their displeasure before the Village Board Monday.

Gary and Lola Roeh of Premiere Investors Group appeared during the public comment portion of the board’s agenda, with Lola Roeh reading a statement about the status of the development.

She explained that the group has been working with the village on the plan since 2017 and reached a developer’s agreement with incentives with the village in May of this year.

Now, she continued, “The Planning Commission has altered the incentive terms so significantly that the viability of the affordable housing project that has been in development for over a year, which had incentive terms in place for months, is now unworkable and financially not viable for the developer.”

After a closed session discussion by the Planning Commission July 11, Roeh said, the terms and conditions of the agreement were changed. “We were not provided any specific feedback from the closed session discussions that took place at that meeting.”

Trustee Terri Knowles later said she had attended the commission meeting, but left before the closed session discussion of the Premiere development. She asked Village President Alan Rudnick if he could explain what happened.

“We discussed the agreement, but it was in a closed session and I can’t really report on it here,” Rudnick responded.

One specific change raised by Roeh was the commission “insisting on two apartment buildings” instead of the three originally proposed.

“It appears that the four members of the … commission in attendance last Wednesday (July 11) do not want or do not value development of affordable housing in the village of Elkhart Lake, with an increased tax benefit of $5.6 million for the village, as they have directed drastic changes to previously negotiated incentive terms which are financially prohibitive for the developer,” Lola Roeh charged.

“In fact, these new terms not only discourage development, they are punitive to the developer, as opposed to incenting development,” she continued. “It should be noted that four developers have walked away in the past four years because they do not see an appetite for housing development in Elkhart Lake.

“Meanwhile the TIF clock is ticking and the market demand is being met in neighboring communities surrounding Elkhart Lake, capturing the employees that hold jobs created in Elkhart Lake. Affordable housing options are being built in Kiel, Plymouth and now New Holstein. This is where our year round employees are finding housing. Other developers are watching,” Roeh concluded.

She noted that, because of the late notification to Premiere of the changes made by the commission, they were not able to get the item on the board’s agenda for Monday.

That meant the council and village officials could not respond to the comments during the meeting. Knowles did request that the item be put on a future board agenda.

Trustees did raise questions about another development in the village, developer Jesse Burg’s Aston Flats project on Rhine Street.

The village has agreed to provide Burg with tax incremental finance district incentives for the building, but with the understanding that the retail and residential spaces in the building were to be for long-term and not short-term use.

Trustee Lynn Shovan said it is being reported that the developer has received approval from the state to make changes to the building that would allow for short-term rentals, in violation of his agreement with the village.

“We need to reconsider the TIF money we’re giving them when they’re not building longterm (facilities), what the village needs,” Shovan stated.

“I don’t believe we can act on rumors,” Rudnick responded.

He said that he and Village Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer Jessica Reilly would contact Burg to get clarification on whether his building plans have changed.

Shovan requested that any communication be via email rather than telephone so the village can have a written record of Burg’s response.

The board approved the public library’s remodeling plans, developed by Embury Ltd. of DeForest.

Reilly said that the Library Board had moved away from original plans for an outdoor vestibule and will instead create a vestibule inside the front door.

The remodeling will also include changing the location of the circulation desk, removing part of a staff wall and installing new carpeting.

The village will share the cost of creating an internet hot spot at the Depot with the Chamber of Commerce and the Elkhart Lake Historical Society. The board agreed to the three-way split of the $1,702 cost.

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