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Wausau City Council passes controversial zoning change


WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAU) - A proposed zoning change for 18 acres in Wausau passed narrowly after more than half an hour of debate and no support from neighborhood residents.

The City Council voted 6-5 to change the undeveloped land on Northwestern Avenue from R1 single family residential to a unified development zone, where multiple family units could be built.

The property developer is Dan Higginbotham, who would like to construct apartment buildings on the land.

Two of the council members that strongly opposed the change were President Lisa Rasmussen and Romey Wagner.

Rasmussen says this site and the road leading to it leave her with many concerns. “What their vision for the area is, and what they hope everyone’s vision for the area is is single family residential homes, and high density multi-family housing really does create logistics issues, it creates traffic issues. The fire inspector at the Plan Commission even identified that there were fire suppression issues with the layout of the site, and so those things concern me.”

Rasmussen says even under the unified development zone, specific development plans have to come back to committees and the full council, but she fears the vote on an apartment complex would be the same as the vote to change the zoning. “Whether the neighbors like it or not, as long as the plan is at least similar in concept to what was presented, it will likely pass because unless something happens along the way with the plan, or some substantive changes, I wouldn’t anticipate a different result than what we got tonight, which means the neighbors who vehemently oppose the plan still are not going to be heard.”

Rasmussen is not opposed to more apartment buildings, but doesn’t believe this location is suitable for several reasons, including a substandard road for heavy traffic and limited fire access under the proposed plan. “The answer isn’t to move in 200 living units and then figure out there’s a problem, it’s to plan something that fits with the infrastructure you have rather than to try to problem solve once it’s already there.”

Wagner says the roadway is narrow, is a bike route, and is not designed for the traffic that comes with major apartment developments. “The neighborhood that was represented in there, all of this traffic has to go right by them, probably at a higher rate of speed than what is posted, it’s going to beat the road up. There really is nothing in place to transition that road to a thoroughfare. It’s a neighborhood road.”

Wagner is disappointed in the council for approving the zoning change, saying the area residents don’t want this development. “One hundred percent of the residents that were in there were opposed to this being changed from a residential one single family, and the key there is that they are the taxpayers already, they’ve invested in the community. Their voice needs to be heard.”

Wagner says this discussion shows that the city council will be going through future development plans with a fine tooth comb to make sure new projects are of the size and quality that’s appropriate for the city. If the developer’s plans for Northwestern Avenue includes apartment buildings, he’s hoping to kill it during the approval stages, but knows he will need help. “I would hope that when it comes back, if it’s apartment buildings and things, that the residents and myself can maybe convince one more Alderperson, and shoot that UDD proposal down. Maybe then, they’ll bring one back for single-family development.”