BOSCOBEL - At a packed and sometimes tense public hearing this week, homeowners lined up to express their opposition to the city’s plans for Boscobel’s Pine Shores Estates housing development. Mayor Brenda Kalish had to twice call the planning commission hearing to order when tempers flared, and arguments broke out.
At issue is about an acre of mature pine trees that grow on 7 lots and screen the existing homes from J&J Salvage and Recycling. The city is proposing to purchase and rezone the lots for multi-family dwellings and to replace the trees with an earth berm and wall. Currently, the lots are zoned for single family homes.
Neighbors argued against both proposals to the planning commission, though the meeting was narrowly focused on the re-zoning issue. The planning commission was charged with making a recommendation on that subject to the city council, which ultimately holds the power to decide zoning issues. The council will take up the issue of rezoning the lots on May 16, at 7 p.m.
“I built knowing that everything is residential R1,” the designation for single-family homes, said Tim Beinborn, who lives in the development. “Now all of a sudden you guys are changing the rules halfway through the game. That’s not right. That’s dirty,”
“What did you think was going to happen?” retorted John Schimpach, who owns the lots in question, during his testimony. “Every day of your life you drove right by that sign that says, ‘For Sale.’ I spent a lot of money on sewer and water and electrical and gas. All the surveying. I had to remortgage my farm. I paid off a farm twice already to make this work. Now you want me to throw that all out?”
Paul Beck is a property owner in the Pine Shores development who addressed the planning commission on May 9.
Traffic, noise, and an eyesore
Over the course of some dozen public comments and much discussion, several common themes emerged. A primary concern was the negative impact of higher-density housing, especially rental property. Those concerns included increased traffic on the loop of Pine Circle and losing the tranquil Feel of the neighborhood.
“It’s a beautiful quiet wilderness neighborhood,” said Patricia Smith. “There’s wildlife everywhere. It’s just such a haven.” Traffic and parking, she added, would create a safety hazard for pedestrians and emergency vehicles.
Adding to residents’ apprehension is uncertainty over what type of housing would be built. The city’s mandate is to provide housing affordable for workers, but the specific development at Pine Shores could be, for example, senior housing that would free up worker housing elsewhere in the city, explained City Administrator Misty Molzof.
“I would like to know why what is proposed to be done there cannot be more definitive,” said Janet Beck. “We have no idea what’s going to happen there except that you want to take down all the trees. We don’t know if it’s multifamily. We don’t know if it’s rental. Is that fair to the people who own two-thirds of the property back there now?”
Many of those commenting expressed skepticism over the city’s plan to build an earth berm and wall to screen the housing from the salvage yard. Building anything over six feet would require a variance to the city code.
Joe Napp, co-owner of J&J Salvage, said that he and his brother have worked to clean up the yard in the two years they’ve owned it. “But whatever we do, it’s going to look like hell. It’s a junkyard,” he said. “I’d like to know what berm will keep everybody from looking out of their second story window into our scrap yard saying, ‘God, that looks really nice.’”
The motion fails
After more than an hour of public comments, Mike Reynolds, Boscobel’s City Engineer and Director of Public Works, made a motion to recommend rezoning the lots. “I understand all of these concerns,” Reynolds said, “but I feel as a person on the planning commission I have to do what’s best for the city of Boscobel and I have no doubt that what’s best for the city of Boscobel is to try to develop additional housing.”
Other commissioners were more skeptical. “The first I had known about what was going on was when I picked up The Dial,” said Commissioner Dean Beinborn. “The development of that area is something that should be done. Mr. Schimpach shouldn’t have to be setting on those lots. Somewhere there’s got to be some common ground. But just to hold my hand up and say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’ I don’t have enough information.”
After some further discussion, the vote was called. Voting in favor of recommending the rezoning were Reynolds, Alderman Krissy Schneider, and Commissioner Kelly Randall- Dempsey. Voting against were commissioners Beinborn, Pat Roseliep, Karl Krogen, and Mayor Kalish.
The question of re-zoning the lots will still come before the city council at the next meeting, just without the recommendation of the planning commission. Further, the city’s purchase agreement with Shimpach was contingent on the rezoning and will need to be renegotiated.
Despite the conflict, some agreements emerged between the commission and concerned neighbors. At the suggestion of Janet Beck, the commission agreed to appoint some residents to the steering committee that will ultimately decide what type of development to build on the seven lots.
“I think that’s fair,” said Reynolds. “They should have a say.”
And toward the end of the meeting, Joe Napp expressed a willingness to work with the city on the structure screening his business from the residential neighborhood.
“If we work together, we can really do something nice back there,” said Reynolds.
Communications tower moves ahead
Grant County got the green light from Boscobel’s planning commission to build a 255-foot communications tower at the edge of town on State Road 133. The tower is 1 of 11 the county is connecting to a fiber optic loop to improve emergency communications. The tower would also potentially host an internet provider, according to county officials.
In other business, the planning commission approved motions to:
• Sell a lot in the industrial park for an auto detailing business.
• Allow a zoning variance for Doug and Cindy Knoble to build an addition.
• Outsource some of zoning duties, including updating the code, to General Engineering.•Reconvene the steering committee of the city’s comprehensive plan ensure it continues to guide city decisions.