EAU CLAIRE — The future of a proposed subdivision in Washington that has caused concern among residents is less certain after a county committee did not approve a rezoning request that would allow homes to be built on current farmland.
During its meeting Tuesday night, the Eau Claire County Planning and Development Committee voted 3-2 to recommend denying a request to rezone 234 acres from an agricultural district to a rural home district so that the substantial development could be constructed on the land. Supervisors Nancy Coffey, Jim Dunning and Robin Leary voted against the proposal, while supervisors Gary Gibson and Dane Zook voted in favor.
The rezoning request will still be considered by the Eau Claire County Board at its Feb. 16 meeting, since the committee’s vote on Tuesday was only a recommendation. The Washington Town Board last Thursday unanimously recommended approval of the rezoning request.
Following the recommendation of county staff wanting additional information and clarification, the Planning and Development Committee also tabled to its Feb. 23 meeting two items related to the rezoning request: a conditional use permit request to create a 117-lot development on that land and a preliminary plat for the subdivision.
Craig Wurzer, owner of C&E Wurzer Builders, applied for the rezoning request and conditional use permit request.
The proposed development, called Orchard Hills subdivision, could be the largest in the history of Eau Claire County. Scheduled to take at least three years and multiple phases to complete, the mainly single-family homes would be built on land located at the northwest corner of Mischler Road and Deerfield Road just south of Eau Claire. If approved, work would start in the northeast part of the subdivision and progress south and west over the next few years, the rezoning proposal states.
Eau Claire County staff recommended approval of the request. Matt Michels, Eau Claire County senior planner, supported the rezoning, saying the county has considered that land in Washington a candidate for residential development since 1979.
“In order for this county to grow, probably the ground you’re sitting on had some farming potential at some point, so it’s cost-benefit analysis,” Michels said. “It doesn’t mean we should willy-nilly get rid of farmland, but it does mean we have priority land that is considered more appropriate … because it’s in proximity to the city and transportation hubs.”
Paul Holzinger, owner of Holzinger Homes, spoke Tuesday in support of the proposal, saying that one large purchase of land allows a long-term vision to be enacted while maintaining the rural feel of the area. Holzinger is part of CDPG Developers, the entity that would carry out the plans to create the subdivision if approved. The four members are Wurzer; Holzinger; Damian Prince, Chippewa Valley Excavating; and Grady Wold, Trend Stone Surfaces.
Similar to the Washington Town Board meeting last week, during the public hearing portion of the rezoning request, residents expressed several concerns with the proposed development. Ten people spoke against the proposal, and they mentioned concerns about safety, density, maintaining a rural way of life, insufficient traffic analysis, groundwater, the feasibility of the development group completing a project of this size and if there would be enough demand to buy the proposed 117 homes.
“I question how Eau Claire’s population growth will support all of these new developments, especially this one,” Washington resident Leslie Duffy said.
Washington resident Brian Binczak said there are at least 215 signatures on an online petition opposing the development. He explained that he and many other residents do not oppose land development in general, but they are against this specific proposal.
Other residents were concerned the new subdivision would cause safety issues for pedestrians and bicyclists in the area dealing with an increase in traffic, particularly at blind intersections and on hilly roads.
The new development would add about 1,2000 vehicles in average daily traffic, according to analysis from the Eau Claire County Highway Department. That would include 125 vehicles at the peak hour of afternoon traffic and 90 vehicles at the peak hour of morning traffic.
If Orchard Hills is approved, Binczak said, significantly more vehicles would likely drive through narrow residential streets to go into Eau Claire, creating more potentially dangerous incidents.
Concerns were also expressed about septic systems and groundwater use in the proposed subdivision. The rezoning proposal states that the majority of homes would be served by community-based wastewater systems, and about 15 homes not reached by the wastewater systems would have individual septic systems. Each home would have an individual well providing water to it. Residents questioned how well that setup would work and mentioned the potential for groundwater contamination from septic systems.
Binczak said the rezoning proposal has too many unanswered questions, and on Tuesday, a majority of county committee members agreed.
“For the largest proposed development in Eau Claire County history, I say we need better,” Binczak said. “We need more information. We need better analysis.”