Residential housing proposed for Eau Claire’s lower west side would foster interaction between neighbors while filling a housing need, the project’s developer said Wednesday.
Chris Steinhafel, a staff member of Milwaukee-based developer WiRED Properties, said a proposal to build relatively small, single-family homes clustered around shared green space north of Madison Street near the Chippewa River would add an alternative to larger, suburban-style housing and more-dense apartment dwellings commonly found in downtowns.
“This kind of development would really bridge the gap between suburban and downtown housing,” Steinhafel told the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority Wednesday.
The RDA agreed to grant WiRED Properties a 90-day exclusive right to reach a purchase and development agreement for about 2 vacant acres in the Cannery Redevelopment District.
The proposed development would be constructed along the 2300 block of First Avenue the RDA recently obtained from the city. Plans call for homes to be built according to a “pocket neighborhood” model that originated on the West Coast and typically includes groups of eight to 12 houses around common space such as a courtyard or shared garden.
That housing style promotes neighbors visiting with each other, Steinhafel said, and would fill a housing niche for people seeking alternatives to larger homes and more-cramped apartments.
Specifics of the development remain to be ironed out, Steinhafel said. Homes could be between 1,000 and 1,900 square feet, he said, but could be smaller or larger, depending on input received from a series of planned meetings WiRED is planning during the next three months to solicit input about the project.
“We really like to work with communities to see what they are looking for in terms of housing,” he said.
The relatively small homes would include front porches and typically would appeal to younger people seeking smaller, affordable homes, Steinhafel said. The proximity of the houses to a nearby proposed park, a bike/walking trail and downtown make the site appropriate for the proposed housing there, he said.
Costs remain uncertain, he said, but he estimated a 1,000-square-foot house would cost between $180,00 and $225,000, depending on amenities. Constructing them using modular building could reduce those figures, he said.
RDA member Catherine Emmanuelle questioned the affordability of homes in that range for many in Eau Claire, where affordable housing has become an issue.
“One-hundred-eighty-thousand for some families wouldn’t be affordable,” she said.
Working with New Market Tax Credits or the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority could make the homes more affordable, Steinhafel said, noting he plans to see whether either option is applicable to the proposed project.
To proceed with the development, WiRED Properties would have to gain RDA approval of a final plan within 90 days. That project would require City Council approval as well if it involves city funding.
The RDA could grant a time extension if the plan is “moving along and progress has been shown,” city economic development administrator Mike Schatz said.
The company has overseen urban developments in such Wisconsin communities as Oak Creek and Mequon and is developing the area around the new Milwaukee Bucks stadium.
On Wednesday the RDA also bought 2.8 acres in the Cannery District from Cigan Properties for $547,645. The site is north of Platt and south of Maple streets.
That purchase is the latest in a series of such transactions in recent years to pave the way for redevelopment efforts there. Only a few businesses and duplexes remain to be acquired.
Work continues on the Brewing Projekt property at 1801 N. Oxford Ave., a structure that will replace the brewery’s current smaller site two blocks away. Other redevelopment in the Cannery District includes paved recreational trails added last year linking the High Bridge to West Madison Street.
As that work and property acquisitions continue, the redevelopment site is gaining increased attention from potential developers, Schatz said.