Commission shoots down housing plan

Neighbors speak out against 40-unit building at former hospital property

After hearing overwhelming opposition from neighbors Wednesday, the Shawano Plan Commission unanimously rejected a proposal for a 40-unit senior housing complex that would have occupied the north parking lot of the former Shawano Medical Center complex.

Some two dozen residents of that neighborhood packed the meeting room, half of whom addressed the commission, and a petition in opposition to the plan bearing 74 signatures was presented.

The proposal offered by Kansas City-based Northpoint Development Corp. would have erected a four-story subsidized senior housing complex with 40 apartments.

One of the objections to the proposal was that the entrance to underground parking and a pitched roof would have made the building closer to six stories.

“It’s too large for the neighborhood,” said Mike Kirar. “We’ve got a small-town atmosphere there, and we’d like to keep it that way.”

Jerry Strickland, who launched the petition against the facility, said it could pave the way for low-cost development of the rest of the former SMC property.

“It will turn into what they call the ‘projects’ in the big city,” he said. “You’re going to have an area that is low-cost housing and it’s going to be a disaster.”

Paul Ramberg also warned against the precedent that could be set for the rest of the property.

“We’ve got to be really careful what we put in there,” he said. “Personally, I do not want to see all that become apartment row.”

Ramberg said residents of the area invested in not just their homes but in the neighborhood.

“We bought the home in 1971, and we bought the neighborhood,” he said. “Everybody here tonight, when they bought that home, they bought the neighborhood they live in.”

Ramberg said the SMC expansions over the years removed 10 of those homes.

“All we ask is, put back what they took from us,” he said.

Jim Oberstein said the city should be looking at an overall plan for the entire SMC campus rather than piecemeal developments.

“That is a valuable piece of property,” he said.

Holly Zander served on an ad hoc committee four years ago that was tasked with coming up with ideas for the future use of the SMC property, though none of those ideas ever came to fruition.

“A four-story apartment building was never part of the plan,” she said.

The former SMC campus consists of about 10 acres overlooking the Wolf River near downtown Shawano. The north parking lot consists of about 1.3 acres of that, along Bartlett Street between West Second and Third streets.

The city owns a roughly 3.5-acre parcel of the former hospital property that became home to the original Shawano Medical Center in 1931 and was leased from the city.

Shawano Medical Center purchased additional land for expansion over the years. That portion of the property is now owned by ThedaCare.

The ad hoc task force on which Zander served recommended options that included a waterfront supper club and lodge and a mix of condominiums and town homes, along with additional green space and a park shelter, and two single-family residential lots.

“This is not the site for this kind of a project,” Terry Hilgenberg said. “This is a single-family home neighborhood.”

Hilgenberg said the neighborhood accepted the expansions of Shawano Medical Center for the good of the community.

Now that the hospital has moved, he said, “we would like the neighborhood back.”

Todd Dobberstein, who led a citizens group proposing that the former hospital site be converted into a multi-use community center, said there is a developer interested in making use of the entire property, including the north parking lot.

Dobberstein said the community center concept was abandoned in favor of uses that would bring in more tax revenue for the city.

“We’ve narrowed it down now to a nice single-family housing type proposal, maybe mixing in some small multi-family, but something that really fits that neighborhood,” he said.

Dobberstein said the proposal has been put before the Common Council, but it has not been discussed in open session.

Other concerns raised by neighbors about the proposed senior housing complex included the lack of a nearby grocery store or services for the elderly, the amount of traffic that would be created and the danger to children in the neighborhood, and the apartment building’s effect on property values.

Several member of the plan commission also agreed with the argument that there are better locations in the city for a senior housing complex.

The commission had little trouble reaching a decision after hearing the objections.

“We’ve had a significant representation of residents in the area,” said commission member Robyn Shingler. “I think the message is loud and clear.”