MOUNT PLEASANT — As developers begin to plan to build the future housing that Foxconn Technology Group will make essential, they, and municipalities, will have to be open to high-density projects.
That was one of the messages that came out of a midday panel discussion during Wednesday’s Southeastern Wisconsin Housing Summit held at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Racine, 7111 Washington Ave. The six-hour event attracted about 250 developers, builders, municipal officials, other community leaders and lenders.
The event’s purpose was to start serious discussions that will lead to more housing creation, with Foxconn expected to bring up to 13,000 jobs. Numerous area municipalities sent representatives, brought maps showing buildable areas and spoke with developers.
Racine County and the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority co-sponsored the summit.
A panel discussion brought three housing developers and WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Winston.
Jerry Franke of Franke Development Advisors, who has been studying Foxconn-era housing needs, and promoting housing development, moderated the discussion.
Among the topics discussed during the 44-minute discussion was the need to have some density in a good portion of the future housing to be developed.
“How can you use increased density to create a better project for the community?” Franke asked the panelists. He cited Drexel Town Square in Oak Creek, which has 47 housing units per acre — far above the old accepted standard of eight per acre, he said. “… It’s allowed them to do amenities that otherwise couldn’t be done.”
Ryan Douglas, president of Kenosha-based Land Quest, said more housing density also attracts millennials, creates more tax revenue for the municipality and is better for the developer.
“I think this whole discussion and what’s happening in Racine County is going to force every community to look at density differently than they used to,” said Robert Monnat, part-owner and chief operating officer at the Mandel Group, which specializes in urban redevelopment, urban infill and waterfront developments. He said it would be undesirable to merely build the old standard of eight single-family houses or duplexes per acre.
“It really also goes back to land preservation as well,” Monnat continued. “You don’t just want to rubber-stamp moderate-density over every square acre of land and ruin the entire character of Racine County. What you want to do is get this density in these tight nodes, such that people who do live there can walk to some services and amenities.”
Two Mandel projects in Milwaukee, including The North End, have 120 units to the acre, Monnat said.
But having the most density doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best project, he cautioned. “There needs to be a qualitative filter.”
Where new housing is built will be important, especially to millennials, and they prefer to live without cars, Winston said. “This issue of placing the housing in proximity to other services, to the jobs, I think is one of the key points — and it may not be just doing housing; it may be doing mixed-use housing.”
At one point Franke asked the developers whether mixed-income housing, that which includes both subsidized and market-rate units, is a formula that can work.
Douglas is working with Cardinal Capital Management to build an $18 million apartment complex at what is called the Ajax site in Uptown. Cardinal has done a building in which half is market-rate units and half are subsidized, he said and added, “It works beautifully.”
The Ajax project will also mix those two disparate income types of housing, Douglas said.
“Now, when you drive down the street, you will not notice the difference,” he said. “The whole development will look spectacular. But we’re serving both needs.
“And what I would ask is for the municipalities to adjust their perception of what affordable (subsidized) housing,” Douglas said. “… These are people that want to be close to where they’re working, and deserve to be. In an upward economy, it’s easier to have this mix of housing than in a declining economy.”
Monnat and the other developer on the panel agreed that mixed-income housing can and does work. One of them was Joshua Jeffers, president and CEO of J. Jeffers & Co., which is planning the $18 million Gold Medal Flats, also an $18 million project. It will be a historic redevelopment of the former Gold Medal Camp Furniture manufacturing building at 17th Street and Packard Ave., with 65 subsidized and 12 market-rate apartments.
Much of what Jeffers’ company does is historic redevelopment, and he said the City of Racine has a big opportunity. “One thing that we’ve enjoyed about getting into the Racine market is that there is a tremendous stock of historic buildings here,” he said. “… This was an incredible manufacturing town.”
“I think this whole discussion and what’s happening in Racine County is going to force every community to look at density differently than they used to.” <&textAlign: right>Robert Monnat, chief operating officer at the Mandel Group