CALEDONIA — Mike Oster is mowing his front lawn on a sunny Tuesday evening in early September as neighbor kids ride leisurely past on their bicycles. He looks out across Maple Park, the 72-lot neighborhood that’s finally started filling up in the past couple years, and he wonders if its growth will be sustainable, especially with the nearby quarry creeping seemingly ever closer.
Oster, along with his wife and three children, lives at the northwest corner of Maple Park. When they moved in three years ago, the Osters’ house was the only one on the cul-de-sac. Now there are four, with a fifth under construction.
Waukesha-based Westridge Builders began developing Maple Park in 2005, but progress ground to a halt when the Great Recession hit.
In spring 2012, only 11 of the lots had been built upon. Now, nearly half of them contain houses, and most of them are occupied.
In the past five years, most of the land in Maple Park has been purchased by Korndoerfer Homes, which has started pouring investment into the neighborhood — both by enticing people to build their own houses with affordable lot prices ($22,900 to $34,900), and by constructing and selling premade houses.
“We’ve really picked up the pace in the last couple years,” said Wolf Korndoerfer, owner of Korndoerfer Homes.
But progress may again be coming to a standstill.
Some residents are wary of the quarry expanding. At present, the northern end of the quarry is about one-quarter mile away, but the Caledonia Village Board approved plans on Sept. 4 that will allow mining to occur about 500 feet from Maple Park’s southern border.
Oster lives about a half-mile from the current quarry, and he said his family can sometimes feel rumbles from the explosions. He doesn’t like the idea of the quarry coming closer.
“It’s going to snuff out development in this particular neighborhood,” Oster said.
Amy Wieckowski was one of the first residents of Maple Park, having moved 11 years ago to a home on Ellis Avenue, the street nearest to the quarry.
Now retired, Wieckowski is in the process of moving out of state to be closer to family. As such, the expanding quarry won’t affect her much, but she said a potential buyer was scared off when they heard about the quarry plans.
“I doubt very many developers will want to build by the quarry,” Wieckowski said.
Korndoerfer feels the opposite. He doesn’t think the expanding quarry will hurt Maple Park; it might even help development.
“I’ve studied the plan. I think it’s a positive for Maple Park,” Korndoerfer said, admitting that he was wary of the expansion at first.
Payne & Dolan, the company that operates the quarry, has promised not to even ask for permission expand beyond its new limitations.
The Waukesha-based company also promised to create a 14-foot-tall, grass-covered berm along the northern and eastern edges of the expanded quarry to block out sound, dust and debris. On top of that, it will pay to redirect Charles Street, which currently cuts through the Payne & Dolan’s property, and will plant a “50-foot vegetated buffer” along the southeastern side of the new road alongside Marquette Drive.
If the expansion hadn’t been approved, the quarry probably would’ve been abandoned within seven years. Now, it could last another 50.
Once the quarry is exhausted, Payne & Dolan proposed filling it with water to create a 101-acre community lake, although many residents are skeptical of the tentative plan.
With the berm and promise of no more quarry expansions, Korndoerfer believes that Maple Park will continue to grow, despite Wieckowski and Oster’s fears.
“We think it’s the best value in town … they will never quarry right next to Maple Park,” Korndoerfer said.
Keeping Maple Park marketable
The Village Board, along with other public officials, have faced backlash after approving the quarry.
But the village’s Parks & Recreation Commission is making an effort to show continued commitment to Maple Park.
“You have to make improvements for quality of life. People have to see that you’re buying into them,” Trustee Jay Benkowski said at Tuesday’s commission meeting.
Plans were set in motion Tuesday to purchase a new, $6,000 swing set for the playground at the center of the neighborhood.
This planned investment hasn’t been publicized yet, and several Maple Park residents remain skeptical of many Caledonia officials.
One week after the Village Board approved expanding the quarry by a 5-2 vote (Benkowski and Trustee Fran Martin were opposed), at least one Maple Park home still had “NO QUARRY EXPANSION” signs taped to its windows. Others have considered moving away.
Both Oster and Wieckowski were among those who didn’t approve of the decision.
There are three still vacant lots next to the house Wieckowski is leaving on Ellis Avenue. Neither Oster nor Wieckowski thinks homes will be built there anytime soon, if ever.
“We pretty much lost those three lots along Ellis,” Oster said. “(The quarry expansion) has been kind of aggressive.”