NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) – In a 6-1 vote on Tuesday night, Neenah’s plan commission approved two recommendations that will pave the way for a controversial mixed-housing development project on the Shattuck Middle School property.
But it’s the common council that will have the final say on if the project moves forward. On Dec. 7, they will decide whether to approve the rezoning and city comprehensive plan changes that will officially allow the development to proceed.
Following feedback from the community, the developer has altered the plan to increase the amount of green space that remains on the property.
Many people living around Shattuck Middle School don’t like the proposed development on the school’s property. Residents have sent city officials dozens of letters and emails laying out their opposition to the project.
Northpointe Development bought the Shattuck Middle School property from the Neenah Joint School District over the summer and they want to turn the property into mixed-use housing.
The developer would convert the current Shattuck Middle School building into 100 apartment units and then use the school grounds for duplexes, townhouses, and single-family homes.
“I think it’s very positive to be reusing that property, it’s very expensive to demolish a property, so it seemed like a very reasonable reuse of a property in the city,” Neenah Mayor Jane Lang told Local Five News earlier this month.
A Neenah Joint School District official told Local Five News that Northpointe Development was the only bidder for the property. The district first put the property up for sale in May 2021.
For the development to happen, the city would have to change the zoning of the property from single-family homes (R-1) to traditional neighborhood developments (TND).
The school district official also told Local Five news that if the city doesn’t approve Northpointe’s development plan they can back out of the purchase.
Many Neenah residents, especially people who live around the Shattuck Middle School property, are opposed to the development proposal. If you drive into the neighborhood, you’ll notice red signs in front yards stating that opposition.
There’s also an online petition opposing the development that has over 600 signatures.
Judd Stevenson is one of the people who lives across the street from the middle school and is opposed to the project. He grew up in this neighborhood.
“We ended up moving back here because we knew it was a nice community and a very close-knit neighborhood,” said Stevenson.
He and others in the neighborhood want the property to stay as R-1 zoning because they believe building single-family homes fit the character of the existing neighborhood much more cleanly and would also preserve more of the green space on the property.
They say they don’t like how densely packed the neighborhood would become if the project goes through. They also said they would rather have people who own their homes than those who rent living nearby because ownership equates to more stake in the neighborhood.
“There were adjustments made from the original plan (that Northpointe Development submitted) from conversations with the developer so some of the density was already reduced,” Chris Haese who is the Director of Community Development and Assessment for the city of Neenah, told Local Five News earlier in the month.
“We are concerned about why they chose a neighborhood surrounded by R1 zoning to put a TND,” said Stevenson.
Other Neenah residents expressed concerns about the project as well. Sara Kranpitz has lived in the neighborhood for about 12 years.
“We don’t want the proposed plan of trying to cram in all of the people that they are trying to cram in there,” said Kranpitz. “The lot sizes are smaller than the rest of the neighborhoods, and the architecture doesn’t fit with the rest of the neighborhood.”
Joe James moved to Neenah last summer from densely populated southern California. He said he’s seen what TND’s can do to neighborhoods.
“It’s not going to do well for traffic, it’s not going to do well for property value, it’s not going to do well for safety,” said James. “It’s going to add a transient population to our immediate area I could go on for a few days (about what he doesn’t like about the project).”
A Neenah resident who opposes Northpointe’s development plan conducted a study on the impact of TND-zoned housing on police calls. He used call data from the Neenah Police Department to see how many police calls other densely-packed apartment units in town put out
The resident concluded that the proposed TND district would lead to over times more police calls than an R-1 district.
Neenah police provided the call data for the study, but didn’t assist in drawing the conclusions and wouldn’t comment on what they thought of the results of the study. A spokesperson for the department said they wanted to remain neutral on this issue.
Haese acknowledged there could be more police calls with the new development plan, but also pointed out that there’s a difference between a police call where there’s an actual crime or dangerous situation occurring and police calls for things like a welfare check. The resident who conducted the study concluded that many of the calls in the proposed TND district would be of the more serious variety.
The city conducted a study that found there would actually be about 250 fewer car trips on neighborhood streets if the Shattuck Middle School property becomes a TND district than the number of car trips in the neighborhood today. The neighborhood sees a lot of traffic when parents are picking up and dropping off kids from school each day.
“Traffic, crime, property value, almost every project that we do it gets raised as a question, we do a very objective look at all of those to make as accurate of a determination as we can,” said Haese to Local Five News at the beginning of the month.
Several city officials Local Five News spoke with said they weren’t surprised by the number of people opposed to the development. They said whenever they try to build something significant in the city they run into opposition.
They wanted to assure residents that they are listening to them and taking their comments into consideration.
“We’re absolutely taking their concerns seriously we have received multiple emails and phone calls and we’re listening to every person who spoke at the plan commission meeting and we are definitely hearing their concerns,” said Lang in an interview with Local Five News earlier in the month.
“If changes are going not the way they suggested that doesn’t mean we’re not listening, we may just choose to disagree, but we do listen,” said Haese in an interview earlier in the month.