On a close vote Tuesday, Eau Claire City Council members approved rezoning property on the east side of Jeffers Road, making way for a plan that drew opposition during a public hearing Monday from property owners in a nearby neighborhood.
Council members approved the development on a 6-4 vote. Councilman Andrew Werthmann was absent.
About 10 people spoke Monday against a proposal that would fill 67 lots in an undeveloped area that was previously zoned for single-family homes. The project calls for 28 of the lots to be single-family homes with the other 39 lots slated for twin homes.
Neighbors from the nearby Shorewood Heights development, which is near Northwest Community Park and includes Katie Lane and Benjamin Street, claimed the development would increase the presence of strangers on foot and in vehicles and possibly prove hazardous for neighbors who already live there.
Councilwoman Kathy Mitchell spoke to those comments Tuesday after explaining that the project was a good opportunity to develop vacant land.
“Everyone who moves into a new place is a stranger, but then we welcome them as neighbors and treat them as neighbors,” she said. “The fact that people don’t want neighbors driving on their streets or walking on their sidewalks, that was disturbing to me. This bordered on a desire for isolation. I think as a council we have to object to that.”
Councilman Terry Weld, who also voted in favor of the rezoning, said twin homes are a legitimate option for a community in need of affordable housing.
“There are 110 new families that will enjoy that area just as much,” he said. “They deserve our commitment to them as well.”
Other neighbors opposed the twin home development, saying it doesn’t belong in that area, especially because other nearby lots are saturated with multifamily developments and twin homes.
“If you want to do multifamily dwellings, pick an area that’s more suitable,” said Shorewood Heights resident Doug Skapyak. “Don’t wreck something that already has a good start.”
Neighbor Julie Neuhaus agreed, saying she and her husband bought their home with the belief, based on city documents, that they would be surrounded by more single-family homes.
“I’ve not heard a reason why this should be used for multifamily except for the developer’s profit,” she said.
Ninety residents signed a petition opposing the rezoning, and 90 also signed a petition against an access road through Shorewood Heights to Jeffers Road.
Council members Catherine Emmanuelle, Kate Beaton, Bob Von Haden and Tim Tewalt voted against rezoning.
“With 90 neighbors opposed to this development, that’s something I can’t ignore,” Beaton said, adding that people already feel ignored by their elected officials at all levels of government. “I want to do better and listen to those 90 neighbors.”
• The City Council approved a site plan for a dog park on the north side of Eau Claire on Tuesday.
The plan calls for sharing the space between the existing Sundet Park and a dog park, which would take up about 9 acres. The overall park is about 11 acres total. The remaining portion not used by the dog park will continue to have playground equipment and a basketball court.
• Three alley projects were postponed to allow for more information gathering before the projects get underway.
The decision to improve the alleys south of Fountain Street and south of Walnut Street, both from Ninth to 11th streets, will be tabled until March 26.
Both projects came under scrutiny from alley neighbors who opposed reconstruction. The new timeframe will allow city staff to let neighbors know that they have time to file petitions against the improvements.
Property owners can submit requests to the city to update alleys, and only one request is needed for the city to bring the project before council.
Those who asked for the updates to take place also will be notified by the city that the projects’ approvals are being postponed.
The vote on another alley project, east of South Barstow Street, from Seaver Street to Emery Street, is also tabled until March. Proposed development later on might negate the need for an alley update at that location.
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