Drive launched to build 600 entry-level homes in county

Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation (SCEDC) Executive Director Brian Doudna formally announced the details of a three-phase Forward Fund entry-level single-family workhouse housing project in the city of Sheboygan Falls during presentation as part of a Finance and Personnel Committee meeting held Wednesday, June 1 at the Sheboygan Falls Municipal Building.

Doudna opened his presentation by outlining the three-phase Forward Fund single-family workforce housing development. 

“The SCEDC has been working hard on a countywide basis to address barriers and challenges for companies to grow in Sheboygan County,” Doudna said. “Cross-sector task forces and various studies have identified housing, childcare, and labor force skills training/development as top workforce challenges facing Sheboygan County families and employers. In analyzing these barriers, we have focused in establishing additional, affordable single-family housing as part of an ongoing countywide effort to recruit talent to seek employment at our area companies.

“Based on the findings from these studies and to address these barriers, the SCEDC created The Forward Fund, a community partnership to help move Sheboygan County forward,” he said. “Housing barrier solutions include a new community housing development model to support the construction of new affordable housing units. Over the past seven months, we have been able to raise $8 million through our Forward Fund to establish new single-family workforce housing throughout Sheboygan County. Sheboygan Falls has been selected as the first site as part our Forward Fund single-family workforce housing development plan, which includes the planned construction of 500 to 1,000 single-family housing units to be constructed at an affordable price point of no more than $225,000 per unit. We realize that right now, we are not fully addressing the needs of the Sheboygan County marketplace. We currently have 2,500 open full-time jobs in the county. We believe Sheboygan Falls offers the kind of lifestyle and environment that fits well with this initiative, as one of our county’s growing communities. That is why Sheboygan Falls was selected as the first community for our Forward Fund single-family workforce housing initiative.”

Doudna then described the location for the county’s first Forward Fund single-family workforce housing initiative. 

“We are looking at purchasing three lots occupying a total of 24.88 acres next to the current Kwik Trip location off of Main Street,” Doudna said. “The first lot will include at least 40 and up to 49 lots. The second lot would feature PUD [planned unit development], which at this point we are looking at developing into pocket neighborhoods or a walkable community designed to be pedestrian-friendly and safe. The third lot, which will also be zoned PUD could potentially be the site of a child care facility.

“At this point, the total estimated valuation of this three-lot development is $14.6 million,” he said. “The Forward Fund has received sizable contributions in the total amount of $8 million so far from Johnsonville, Kohler Company, Sargento and Masters Gallery. We are also looking at seeking an additional $2 million in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds for this project. The current housing market is experiencing rapid price and interest rate increases, exceeding the purchasing power of many working families. The Forward Fund will serve as a continual financial arm to support the development of entry-level homes.”

Doudna then provided additional detail on the phase 2 project for PUD-zoned lot 2. 

“As I mentioned, lot 2 intended to be developed as a pocket neighborhood,” Doudna said. “This will feature one main alley serving both sides of the development with a center courtyard for neighbors to interact.

“It would include a row houses, as well as  town homes, along with a walking trail, yard-park space and wetland-focus views,” he said. “Lot 2 would use a common entrance on the back side of the lot to maximize the native landscape, while providing a sense of community. Overall, we’ve designed this development to be a high-amenity area with a goal of maintaining quality.”

Mayor Randy Meyer then spoke about the decision-making process that went into the zoning classifications for the first two lots of the three-lot development.

“The first lot will be rezoned residential nostalgic, while lots 2 and 3 will be rezoned to PUD zoning or planned unit development,” Meyer said. “Since these lots are now zoned as commercial, hey are a prime place for apartments to be built in the future, if we don’t have an innovative plan like this for the area. 

“Otherwise, I want people to recognize that these lots are very likely to end up as high density apartment someday,” he said. 

Doudna then spoke about the SCEDC’s next steps in the purchase and development of the three lots.

“As part of the developers agreement that we have discussed, we are looking at dedicating a portion of the property as park land to the city,” Doudna said. “Of course, we want to make sure that is all done correctly. We are primarily looking at that parkland to be green space with maybe a small recreational item like a basketball hoop on it. Right now, our anticipated closing date for the land purchase is June 30. 

“Since we are a non-profit, we do not intend to be a long-term property manager for this development,” he said. “The SCEDC’s goal is to sign this over to another association, developer or property manager at some point.”

Due to the close proximity to the city landfill site, Meyer said the city has worked closely with the SCEDC in establishing a basement mitigation device system to enhance safety.

“With the landfill being there, we know this is something that is not going away, so the city has pursued a basement mitigation device, which includes a pipe installed to the basement of the homes in the development, which would allow the methane to go up the pipe and escape without harm,” Meyer said. “The companies investing for this project through the Forward Fund don’t want to take chances with the possibility of environmental aspects associated with the landfill site coming back to cause issues.,” 

City Administrator Shad Tenpas went on to provide the details of the city’s basement mitigation device strategy.

“The city has acknowledged that it will pay $40,000 for this methane radon exhaust piping to protect the safety of residents in the area,” Tenpas said. “This payment averages out to about $8000 per household. The $40,000 amount is for phase 1 only.”

After Alderwoman Rachel Howard asked about any other potential safety concerns associated with the proximity of the landfill site to the planned single-family workforce housing development, Doudna stated his confidence that there were no additional known issues.

“We did go about addressing all possible future residents’ issues involving the landfill site that could arise in the future,” Doudna said. “We found that there are no issues now that would compromise the safety of the area over the long term.

“We have determined that there is no way from a groundwater perspective that the landfill would have any impact on this housing development,” he said. “There was some iron slag that was dumped on the site, but it was tested safe. We determined that the iron slag that was dumped there as nothing to do with the landfill.”

Meyer added that there are currently no pipes running through the landfill site that could impact the future housing development.

“Outside of the methane piping we are doing out of an abundance of caution, I’m confidence that the area is safe for this housing development,” Meyer said.

If approved, Doudna said the SCEDC will begin seeking local builders and partners to advance the development in late fall 2022, with most of the development advancing in early 2023.

He further indicated that the SCEDC will lead in the development of 600 affordable housing units over the next five years throughout Sheboygan County.

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