River Hills residents balk at Mandel Group’s housing proposal

Concerns range from traffic to voting habits of renters

Rendering of Mandel Group's proposed housing project in River Hills

Last updated on May 15th, 2019 at 05:00 pm

A plan to build multi-family housing in River Hills, a Milwaukee County village synonymous with luxury homes on 5-acre lots, did not sit well with its residents Wednesday night, who scoffed at Mandel Group’s proposal during a public forum on the project.

Mandel Group is planning a $75 million, 400-unit housing development at the 53-acre Eder farm property along Brown Deer Road. The proposal includes 204 high-end apartments, two senior living facilities totaling up to 175 beds, and a 9-acre organic farm.

River Hills residents learned about the plan last week after receiving a letter from Mandel Group.

About 150 people attended the developer’s first public meeting on the project Wednesday at Cardinal Stritch University in Fox Point, raising a variety of concerns ranging from increased traffic along Brown Deer Road to the types of employees working at the senior living facilities to the way someone paying  rent might vote compared to a River Hills home owner.

“We have homes that have been here a long time,” said one resident. “Why should we have an equal vote with a $1,500 rent check every month?”

Christopher Meisel told his neighbors not to be fooled by the promises of more tax revenue and apartment amenities that Mandel Group was offering. Currently, the farm generates about $40,000 in tax revenue for the village. The development, called The Farms at River Hills, would add $1.3 million to the tax base, according to Mandel Group.

“We have two schools, three churches and two recreational clubs, we like our privacy,” Meisel said “They are increasing our population by 50 percent. Such a large-scale development will take years to complete. It will be a disruption to University School and to our community.”

Others worried about adding commercial development to the village. This would be the first multi-family or commercial development in the village of about 1,600 people.

“It appears half of the development is nursing homes,” said another resident. “You glossed over this with a farmers market and buying blueberries, but a nursing home is a business. We don’t have any businesses in River Hills now. What are we going to become, the nursing home capital of the North Shore? Where are all of these employees going to park?”

Victor Harding, who identified himself as one of the village’s first residents, said Mandel Group would be welcome if it subdivided the Eder farm, 1820 W. Brown Deer Road, into 5-acre lots and built single-family homes.

“To cram a high-density project in the middle of 5-acre zoned homes doesn’t make sense,” Harding said. “Why can’t we develop this area in conformance to what we’re used to? Put in single-family, 5-acre parcels.”

After Harding spoke, the crowd cheered.

Several residents were also angry Village Manager Chris Lear and the trustees were not in attendance.

“This is something they have been working on for a year and we feel blindsided by a letter,” said Dick Seesel. “I’m very unhappy with our village representatives. They need to hear from us collectively.”

Wendy Walcott, a former village board member, said she was under the impression the development would be high end condominiums.

“I had no idea this would be a rental situation,” Walcott said. “We might not be ready to house our old people in this concept that you’ve got. We have St. Johns (On the Lake, on Milwaukee’s East Side). Our old folks are already there. I like ownership.”

Walcott suggested Mandel Group host more community meetings, now that residents had a chance to digest the information.

Ian Martin, vice president of development with Mandel Group, said there would be at least one more public meeting on the project.

“This is our first meeting, we’re not trying to shove anything down your throats,” Martin said.

Lear said Thursday the project is not yet scheduled for the village to review, but he fully expects residents to attend the regularly-scheduled village board meeting on Nov. 16 to express their concerns.

“To make something like this happen, it would take a major zoning code change,” Lear said. “It will go to the board, plan commission and back to the board. You can be sure it will be done in the full disclosure of the public and there will be public hearings before anything is approved. We’ll see where it goes.”

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