New senior apartments planned for downtown Eau Claire won a vote of approval Tuesday from the City Council, but brought on continued calls for more affordable housing.
The council voted 7-1 to rezone most of the block north of Wilson Park to allow JCap Real Estate to create Wilson Square — a five-story building with 120 senior apartments, a small memory care facility and small grocery store.
“This is something we have a need for and have a market for in Eau Claire,” Councilwoman Jill Christopherson said.
JCap is looking to fill the same market niche as The Classic in Altoona, which Christopherson said is the first market-rate living-in-place facility in the area — allowing seniors to go from independent living to increasing levels of care but continuing to reside in the same complex.
Alex Padrnos, a representative of JCap, told the council during Tuesday’s meeting that The Classic has a long waiting list for two-bedroom units, and Wilson Square is intended to help meet demand for those people.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle said the project is desirable for the community, but it has helped push the issue of affordable housing to the forefront.
“As of right now the city doesn’t have standards to compel developers to include affordable housing,” she said. “A body can’t start applying standards that don’t exist yet.”
Emmanuelle cast a vote supporting the rezoning for Wilson Square, but said policies encouraging affordable housing will be coming soon.
“This decision has really presented the urgency of our affordable housing discussion,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton added.
Earlier in the meeting, Beaton said she was “not entirely satisfied” with answers JCap provided to her questions about any consideration given to affordability when designing the project.
“It does concern me an affordable housing conversation never happened,” Beaton said.
Padrnos explained that wasn’t considered because the high construction cost.
“It is a very expensive project,” he told the council Tuesday evening.
Councilman Terry Weld acknowledged the demand and desire for more low-income housing in Eau Claire, but said a shortage of housing exists in the city for people at all income levels.
The lone opposing vote on the Wilson Square rezoning came from Councilwoman Emily Anderson.
Although she liked the idea of having people of all ages living downtown, Anderson said it’s sad the new apartments are for people with “extreme privilege” to spend their senior years there.
She said the city needs policies s0 there’s equal access for living in the downtown area it has worked hard to revitalize.
The council also took up these matters during Tuesday evening’s meeting:
• A veterans tribute trail planned for downtown Eau Claire city-owned land along Forest Street got final approval from the council, allowing that project to begin construction this summer.
• A $5,000 grant from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will help the city with its efforts to manage the urban deer and Canada geese population.