After an outpouring of objections from area residents, Highland’s Planning and Zoning Board voted 7-0 earlier this month to reject a proposal for the development of a high-end apartment complex on east end of the city. However, the final decision rests with the City Council.
“We unanimously voted against it, because it did not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan,” said Planning and Zoning Board member Shirley Lodes. “The (comprehensive) plan was adopted by the City Council in 2013, and it lays out how things should be set out in the city.”
The plan called for 48 apartments, with 41 garages, on 4.1 acres near the intersection of St. Rose and Iberg roads.
Lodes said she felt bad for Wilken Development Group, the firm that came up with the proposal, but she couldn’t vote in favor of it because the area is planned for commercial development, not residential.
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“There will be something there in time,” she said. “I think they have wonderful ideas for apartments. I’ve seen their other stuff, and this would have been a nice complex, but it didn’t fit in the perimeters (of the comprehensive plan).”
Planning and Zoning Board members were not the only ones against the apartments. More than 40 residents attended the board’s September meeting to speak out against the proposed development.
“I didn’t speak against the developer, but I know when I served on the board, apartments should be in the inner city, where you could walk to everything,” said Art Schuetz, himself a former Planning and Zoning Board member, who was one of the people to speak in opposition to the apartments.
Schuetz said current residents had many issues with the plan.
“We had issues with parking,” he said. “There wouldn’t be enough if one family wanted to have a birthday party.”
He also said he feared for school bus drivers coming to pick up students, being that both St. Rose and Iberg Roads have good amounts of traffic.
“Coming down that street can be dangerous. Whether it’s snow, fog, rain, or sun, someone coming around that corner could hit a bus,” Schuetz said. “I’m concerned about high density and the kids can’t walk to school. There are so many places in the city that are already zoned for apartments. I love this city.”
Brad and Austin Wilken of Wilken Development Group said the apartments would be high-end, offering covered parking, a gazebo, green space, a playground, dog park, and a barbecue area.
“Tax revenue would be the most obvious benefit to the city,” said Austin Wilken, development manager for the company. “We were going to have a playground for kids and gazebo for anyone who rented from us. It was going to be a nice, high-end residential community, and this is what we thought Highland needed.”
He said he thought the neighbors’ opposition was mainly that they wanted to keep the status quo.
“It’s already zoned for commercial, and it’s rated the highest level of commercial rating. You could do quite a few things with it. We told them (the residents) something will go out there, it’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said. “Most people don’t like change. They weren’t against the project itself, but would probably want to it to remain farm field. That was really what the opposition said. They like the view.”
For now, the developers are taking a step back.
“The board’s opinion is that it’s not a viable option at that location, so we’ve moved it to the back burner,” Austin Wilken said.
Even though Planning and Zoning gave the idea a thumbs down, the proposal could still come before the City Council, which could choose to accept Planning and Zoning’s recommendation or overlook it. The City Council’s next meeting will be Monday, Oct. 3. However, it’s not clear if the matter will be on the agenda.