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Mount Pleasant
Mount Pleasant housing development progresses, but not without opposition

MOUNT PLEASANT — A proposed 269-unit, $43.5 million apartment development, to be known as The Villages and planned for a site west of the Mount Pleasant Village Hall, is moving forward, but not without opposition.

Travis Yanke lives on a cul-de-sac just south of Old Spring Street. It’s in a quiet pocket of a couple dozen houses with small neighborhood streets running through it. The neighborhood has easy access to multiple major roads nearby, but it isn’t really infringed upon by nearby hustle and bustle.

In the next few years, that calm could change pretty quickly.

The proposed development could soon be attached to the southern portion of Yanke’s neighborhood. It’s been proposed by Wauwatosa-based Wangard Partners and the Mount Pleasant Plan Commission, after an hourlong discussion on Dec. 19, unanimously recommended rezoning for the 13-building project. The rezoning recommendation is slated to go to the Village Board January for consideration.

269 apartments planned for Mount Pleasant

MOUNT PLEASANT — A Wauwatosa developer has a housing project in the works to create 269 new market-rate apartments near the Mount Pleasant Village Hall and Police Department, a $43.5 million project in just that first phase.

Proceed with caution

Under the proposed plan, the only current access for vehicles to get to the proposed construction site/apartments would be directly through low-traffic roads in Yanke’s neighborhood, which makes him and other neighbors nervous.

“Higher traffic volume means less safety for our families,” Yanke explained.

While noting those concerns, the Plan Commission also had to consider that the plots Wangard Partners wants to build on are in a prime location to increase the village’s capacity for new residents. The 20-plus-acre area is currently farmland.

“Yes, we have a need in the community (for more housing). But the question is, to fulfill that need, are we totally ignoring the concerns of the homeowners?” asked Ram Bhatia, a village trustee who serves on the Plan Commision.

With other municipalities jumping in on higher-density residential developments — like Union Grove’s incoming 73-unit The Granary Townhomes project and a plan to create almost 500 new apartments in Oak Creek announced in October — Mount Pleasant doesn’t want to miss out on having people move to the village.

Back and forth

Bhatia entered last week’s Plan Commission meeting feeling conflicted regarding Wangard Partners’ proposal. He knows the village will likely be called upon to create housing for as many as 10,000 new residents (maybe more) in the next decade, but he also doesn’t want that influx to disrupt the lives of current residents.

At a lengthy public hearing, residents shared concerns for over an hour, saying they were nervous about having apartments abutting single-family housing and affecting the village’s “rural character,” in addition to traffic concerns. Several residents asked why the apartments couldn’t be built elsewhere.

Jerry Franke, a retired developer, defended the location choice, as did several Mount Pleasant staff members.

“We need to come up with a wider array of housing choices available,” Franke said.

Village Planner Robin Palm said that the proposed location for The Villages, located off 90th Street, is among the best positions in the village to put this kind of development. The Villages would be less than 1.5 miles from points of interest like Marcus Renaissance Cinema, Case High School, the village’s Campus Park and the Amtrak train station in Sturtevant.

The proposed spot, although it may not be preferable to some single-family homeowners, would require few infrastructural additions, such as the installation of new water lines that would be required in the more rural northeast corner of the county, according to Palm.

“The nearby locations of amenities is ideal for density in this particular area,” Community Development Director Sam Schultz said.

“We have to build it somewhere … (Mount Pleasant) cannot accommodate current housing needs,” Palm added. “There is a whole quarter of the village that’s zoned for Foxconn currently. There might be a lot of land right now, but once you start (zoning) everything as R-1 (low-density residential) lots, all of that will be gone and then you have no place left.”

Developers haven’t expressed an interest in low-density housing in the area, Franke said, favoring apartment-style residences, which may better suit newcomers to the area. Franke, along with Palm and Schultz, added that putting apartments like The Villages on undeveloped land on the outskirts of Mount Pleasant would be incredibly costly because of the infrastructure needs. It also wouldn’t be as desirable for prospective residents.

“We don’t have any developers coming forward with R-1 subdivision lots,” Plan Commission Chairman Davis Driver said.

What about roads?

As for the traffic concerns shared by Yanke, his neighbors and some village leaders, there have been ideas thrown around to create an east-west boulevard connecting The Villages to Fancher Road to the west, thus adding more entry and exit options for residents.

However, since Fancher Road is also part of Highway H, it’s controlled by the county. Changing the road would require county approval. Other major thoroughfares, like Highway 20 to the south and Spring Street to the north, are also under the control of other entities — the state for Highway 20 and the county for Spring Street (Highway C).

Even if connecting roads get approved, it’s too early to tell what changes will be allowed or how they’ll be paid for.

Whatever happens, Mark Lake, director of retail development for Wangard Partners, wants to push forward and hopes to have people moved into The Villages as soon as possible.

“This is a development that is really needed,” he said.

Caitlin Sievers / CAITLIN SIEVERS 

Keila Maus, 11, at right calls the shots during a game of "Night at the Museum" at River Bend Nature Center, 3600 N. Green Bay Road, Caledonia, on Wednesday afternoon. The group of about 25 kids playing the game are participants in the center's Winter Break Nature Camp, which began Wednesday and continues through Friday. The center has hosted the camp annually for the past six years, said Executive Director Jeanne Dernehl, and its purpose is to get kids outdoors instead of behind screens. Other camp activities include fort-building, wildlife tracking and spending time around a campfire. 

Agriculture Improvement Act
Conservation projects can move forward with Farm Bill's passage

RACINE COUNTY — Area farmers can be a little thankful that Congress was able to work together to pass the 2018 Farm Bill.

Before the current partial government shutdown, Congress was able to pass the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (the Farm Bill) which was signed by President Donald Trump earlier this month, and that legislation likely to have a real impact in Racine County.

The Farm Bill allocates more than $800 billion in funding for various projects and some of those projects will take place here.

Since Aug. 17, several local conservation projects have been on hold because the previous Farm Bill had expired.

In November, the Racine County Board passed a resolution urging Congress to take action. Eventually, Congress passed the bill with a bipartisan vote.

As the county prepares for 2019, several property owners will have the funds to preserve and protect their lands.

Julie Anderson, director of public works and development services for the county, said this is a win for the local farmers.

“This puts us back in business and allows us to move forward and not have property owners wait for federal funding to assist them,” Anderson said. “This Farm Bill helps the waterways, it helps preserve soil, it helps keep the land productive and more land in production.”

Three programs funded

There are three county programs that are affected by this legislation: the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Security Program.

The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, Anderson said is “primarily a riparian grassed buffer program to convert cropland to permanent vegetation along streams and rivers.”

“With a Farm Bill, landowners can sign into new 15-year agreements and receive incentives and rental payments,” Anderson said. “Wetland restorations are also an option to convert perpetually flooding farmland to wetlands.”

According to the county, that program has four land owners interested in riparian grassed buffers as new participants, which accounts for 17 acres of land; four participants are interested in renewing their agreements, which accounts for 68.5 acres; and three land owners are interested in wetland restorations as new participants, totaling 8 acres.

The Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, Anderson said is used to convert eroding field gullies to permanent grassed swales.

Anderson said that under the Farm Bill, land owners can sign 10-year agreements and receive incentives and rental payments.

According to the county, there are 11 landowners interested in new grassed swales, totaling 2.4 miles, and nine land owners interested in renewing their contracts, totaling 3.25 miles.

The Conservation Security Program is run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Natural Resource Conservation Service office in Union Grove.

Racine County Board Supervisor Monte Osterman of Racine is a representative to the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association Board. The members of the latter board chose him to represent the state on the National Association of Conservation Districts.

Osterman has been advocating for approval of the Farm Bill and said he is pleased with what Congress did.

“Those programs are really the biggest bang for the buck,” Osterman said. “They allow us to control erosion, preserve working land and ultimately it helps clean water and improve water quality.”

Osterman said farmers often plan a year ahead of time before applying for a project, and there were some who were not sure what would be available to them had Congress not passed the bill.

“Wisconsin farmers are resilient people, moreso than many,” Osterman said. “As long as they know what’s going to happen, what’s going on, they’ll find a way to make things work for themselves.”

The Farm Bill is one of the biggest pieces of legislation elected officials vote on because it touches, in some way, nearly 100 percent of people in the United States.

“It seems like people are understanding that the Farm Bill affects anybody whose fork touches their mouth,” Osterman said. “Anybody who consumes, anybody who eats, anybody who has to rely on nutrition is affected by what happens in that Farm Bill.”


Joe Skipper 

Miami defensive back Trajan Bandy (2) tackles Wisconsin wide receiver A.J. Taylor (4), during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)

Top stories of 2018
Top stories of 2018 — No. 6: Police controversies

RACINE COUNTY — A police sergeant was accused of sexual assault on the job, a sheriff’s lieutenant was accused of stealing money from a dead man, and two city officers have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars while on leave.

This relatively short series of revelations, controversies and so-called “problems with cops” made headlines throughout 2018, and collectively accounts for The Journal Times No. 6 story of the year. The stories chosen to be part of the top 10 are determined by The Journal Times news staff based on their impact on the community.

One of these stories actually started in 2015, when Racine Police Officer Brinelle Nabors was accused of using excessive force against a 14-year-old Park High School student. He was placed on leave, but has continuously been paid since December 2015 as his case slowly moves toward trial. After a series of delays, the trial is to finally begin Jan. 8.

A Journal Times records request revealed this summer that a second Racine officer, Sgt. Terrence “Terry” Jones, has been on paid leave since Jan. 3, 2017. Jones has not been charged with a crime, nor has the Racine Police Department revealed why he’s on leave.

State Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, a former Racine police officer himself, has since proposed changing state law to limit how long law enforcement can be on paid administrative leave.

In July, it was revealed that Lt. Chad Schulman of the Racine County Sheriff’s Office was under investigation for stealing money during an investigation into the death of a man. He resigned in October; his resignation was disclosed by Sheriff Christopher Schmaling in December. No charges have been filed in connection to the investigation.

Also in July, Matthew Baumhardt, a Burlington police sergeant and K-9 officer, was accused of coercing an intoxicated woman to perform sex acts on him while he was working. Baumhardt was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1 and resigned from the force on Aug. 23. In September, he was charged with two counts of third-degree sexual assault and misconduct in public office.

Baumhardt pleaded not guilty and may be headed to trial. A status conference is scheduled for Jan. 28.

There were other police controversies during the course of the year.

On Jan. 17, two Racine police officers shot and killed Donte Shannon, who fled from police during a traffic stop. The incident sparked several demonstrations, but the officers involved in the incident were cleared of any wrongdoing. More on this story is coming later this week in the Top 10 stories of 2018 series.

In September, the Racine Police Department closed an investigation that found Tyrone Buckley had acted in self-defense in the death of 34-year-old Matthew Young, who Buckley stabbed during a fight in a church parking lot.

Young’s family has raised questions about whether Buckley should have been charged for carrying a knife as a felon, and the case has been reopened by the Racine County District Attorney’s Office and Racine Police Department.

Young’s family has hired a law firm to file a civil lawsuit in the case against Buckley. The family has also considered lawsuits against the city and Police Department in the case.

District attorney reviewing Racine stabbing death investigation

RACINE — The Racine County District Attorney’s Office is re-examining an investigation regarding the death of Matthew Young, the 36-year-old man who died on Sept. 4 after being stabbed in a church parking lot during a fight with Tyrone Buckley, 45. Charges are reportedly being considered for Buckley, although nothing had been filed as of Friday.

In May, Racine Mayor Cory Mason announced that he was launching a review of the city’s Police Department to study its “cultural climate” after a survey on officers’ morale raised concerns of racial and gender bias. The Journal Times has not received results from that survey nor has the city released the cost of the study.

The Journal Times will continue to look into these cases and provide updates as they are available.