The Highland City Council voted down a rezoning request Monday, April 17, for the development of a $5.8 million, upscale apartment complex. The council also agreed to provide incentives for upgrades/expansions to two existing businesses and adopted a wait-and-see approach to see if any stimulation was needed to spark home building.
Wilken Development requested the area at 245 Field Crossing Drive, which is currently zoned as a R1C for single-family residences, to be rezoned to mixed-use. Wilken was looking to create 56 units, divided between two- to three-bedrooms. Also in the plans were 112 parking spaces, a green house, pool, and coffee and tea bar.
However, some residents of the nearby Autumn Crest subdivision opposed the development. Seven residents of the subdivision addressed the council, asking them to vote against the development.
The first person to speak to the council was Lewis Dunning, presented petition with of 109 neighbors who penned their signatures in opposition.
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“I think the list of 109 individuals should be proof enough that the people do not want this project in their backyard,” Dunning said.
He also listed various reasons why the complex should not be built, including spikes in crime, traffic, decreasing property values and noise. He said that no one wanted to be disturbed by the apartment pool full of “screaming kids having fun.” At the end of his speech, he asked whoever opposed the apartments to stand up. The majority of visitors in room stood, though many of them did not speak to the council directly.
A main concern of those who opposed the development was their own property values. Many said that they bought their homes with the understanding that the open areas nearby would be used to develop single-family residences.
Autumn Crest resident Carol Oldinski said that she would oppose anything larger than a duplex and asked if the city really needed an apartment complex, adding it would have an adverse effect on the neighborhood.
“Our whole sense of community would be destroyed,” Oldinski said.
Resident Barbra Heyen said she was scared that, if the complex was approved, it would leave only a “thin line to cross” for other future developments. She also stressed the significance of the 109 signatures and said that they were proof of the community’s voice.
“I’m wondering, ‘Are our voices being heard?’” Heyen said.
Brad Wilken, the owner of Wilken Development, also spoke and tried to reassure the subdivision residents that every precaution was being taken to uphold their current standard of comfort.
According to Wilken, the units would have been upscale, high-quality town homes, with a minimum rent of $900 a month, which would not decrease the value of surrounding properties. He said that the high prices would draw in hard-working people who would not contribute to the concerns of the neighboring subdivision. Wilken also mentioned that a noise barrier made of 40-foot evergreen trees would be put in between the development and its neighbors.
“We’re going to make sure these are nice,” Wilken said.
Wilken acknowledged the apartment complexes do tend to see higher crime rates, but his current developments fall below those averages, because they take all the advised precautionary measures, like administering criminal background checks before allowing renters to move in.
However, Wilken’s testimony was not enough to sway the council vote. The motions were voted down with only one vote in Wilken’s favor, from Councilman Rick Frey, who said he felt Wilken did his homework.
“It was a very tough decision,” Frey said. “We are trying to do what is best for the city. It looked like a very upscale complex. A lot of good people would be willing to pay rent for a safe, clean apartment.”
Councilman Aaron Schwarz said that he had to put himself in the shoes of the Autumn Crest residents, and he felt the development was not fair because he would have the same mindset of the residents.
Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said that, while she opposed the project, the council and the community needs to think about what could end up in that space besides the complex. She said that anyone has the right to request a rezoning, and future developments could leave the area with a strip mall instead of an upscale living development.
However, Bellm’s warning did not seem to deter the happiness of the residents had after the motion didn’t pass.
“I am very pleased that the members of the council listened to our concerns and the 109 voices of our neighbors,” Oldinski said.
Wilken said he and his development company were disappointed.
“It is disheartening,” Wilken said. “We put lots of effort and energy to get this off the ground.”
According to Wilken, his development company loves Highland and already has a presence in the city, but because of this, he does not see any future developments in Highland going forward.
If the rezoning was approved, the council would have had to also approve a special-use permit to Wilken and Austin Wilken allowing them to operate the facility, but because the council voted down the rezoning it made voting on the special-use permit and the statement of facts and findings related to the permit irrelevant.
Apex redevelopment incentive
The city council also approved an economic development incentive for Apex Holdings LLC and Apex Physical Therapy LLC, which intends to renovate the old Tri-onics building.
Apex intends to purchase and renovate the 26,604-square-foot building, located at 2491 Industrial Drive.
The project is estimated to cost about $1.7 million. The new Apex facility is expected to retain 33 jobs and create about 58 jobs over the next five years.
The proposed economic development incentive has two terms: employment incentive and abatement of electrical rates. The city will pay the developer up to $102,500, subject to 10 percent withholding, for the retained jobs, and $342,500, subject to 10 to 25 percent withholding, for the new employees.
However, the employees have to be connected to the new Highland Apex administrative facility, and the employees must be retained for three years, either working full time or equivalent to full time.
The city will also provide an abatement for electrical rates for the new facility for three years. For the first year, the electrical rate will be discounted by 75 percent, 50 percent the second year and 25 percent for the third.
The Industrial Development Commission went over the proposed agreement April 5 and found it suitable for approval.
Animal hospital redevelopment incentive
The council approved an economic development incentive for D&L Real Estate, LLC for the redevelopment of the Highland Animal Hospital LLC.
The project is a $1.4 million remodel of the current 3,600-square-foot facility. The remodel includes new equipment and the addition of 5,700 square feet to the facility, plus an extension of the existing parking lot.
The development incentive agreement states that the city agreed to provide assistance to the developer for 10 years and the amount of incentive will not exceed the requested amount of $108,000.
The city agreed to rebate 75 percent of incremental the entity attribute value for the tax increment financing (TIF) portion of the property taxes.
(Note: In print this story incorrectly reported the incentive went to Highland Animal Shelter. The News Leader regrets the error.)
Home-building incentive idea tabled
The council had another discussion about the potential for the city to implement a new single-family residential development incentive.
According to Latham, the incentive is being pursued because the city has reached its lowest point in single-family lot inventories since 2001. Lisa Peck, assistant city manager, said in a quarterly assessment of home building in Madison County, Highland was ranked fifth, with only 21 new homes built.
Latham said that he hopes an incentive can be made to draw either developers, builders or home buyers into Highland.
The council voted down a single-family residential development incentive proposed by Latham on March 20. The incentive would have paid developers to build single-family residences by reimbursing them for sewer and water tap-on fees. The incentive would allow the developer a maximum rebate of $3,601 per property, after the home passed final inspection.
However, before voting down the incentive, the council members decided the incentive was still something they wished to explore and asked Latham to research the subject a little more. When the council returned for the April 3 meeting, Latham presented the council members with a spreadsheet recounting his findings on the 253 vacant single-family lots in Highland and a breakdown of building permit and tap-on fees for metro-east communities. Latham said he also discovered that no other metro-east communities provide an incentive for single-family home development.
During the discussion, Latham outlined three potential ways the council could move forward. First, he said the council could wait and see if the number of building permits pick up within the next six month in existing subdivisions, using a baseline of 12 permits. The second option would be to look for other ways to encourage home building through a buyers down-payment program or another form of development agreement that could use a set amount. Or third, do nothing at all.
All of the council members agreed to sit out the next six months to see if the number of permits would increase. After that time, they said they would decide if any action needed to be taken.