The country in your own backyard

    Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:29 pm

    Pabst Farms and East Troy both lie along interstate highway corridors flowing out of Milwaukee. Both are in the midst of major development.
    But if you were to ask people in the Milwaukee area about the proximity of each place to the city, most would say Pabst Farms, along I-94 in Oconomowoc and the Town of Summit, is much closer than East Troy, which is along I-43 southwest of Milwaukee, according to Rob Keefe of Keefe Realty in Lake Geneva.
    In fact, from the heart of downtown Milwaukee, each area is about 30 miles away – with the drive to and from East Troy often much quicker than the drive to Pabst Farms.
    "The I-43 corridor in Walworth County is late in blooming," said Steve Beers of Keefe Realty, which has other offices in Walworth County in addition to its Lake Geneva headquarters. "It seems to be against the Wisconsin gene pool to go south. But people are fast and furiously finding that the I-43 corridor is wonderful for living, and very accessible to Milwaukee."
    Development southwest of Milwaukee is happening at such a rapid pace that communities such as East Troy have imposed growth controls, limiting the number of building permits issued each year.
    "But they are not shutting the faucets," says Beers. They are just being more cautious to control development and protect the lifestyle that is luring people southwest in the first place, he adds.
    That cautious approach has slowed development somewhat, and projects now are taking a year and a half to two years to bring online, Beers said.
    The corridor, from New Berlin in Waukesha County southwest to Delavan in Walworth County, is dotted with residential subdivisions, with retail developments following that population growth. Development in Delavan includes a Super Wal-Mart and a Kohl’s Department Store.
    "We can feel the market pulsating here," said Beers. "Even at our office in Delavan, we are seeing more and more people from Milwaukee."
    With its headquarters in Lake Geneva, Keefe Realty has long seen a majority of its business in the second-home market. However, that is changing. A few years ago, Beers says, 75% of Keefe’s transactions involved second homes. That’s down to 60% now, he says.
    "We’re getting found," he says.
    The people "finding" Walworth County are coming from three fronts: down the I-43 corridor from the Milwaukee area; over the Highway 50 corridor from Kenosha County; and up the Highway 12 corridor from Illinois.
    "It’s all converging here," he said.
    While local contractors such as Waukesha-based Bielinski Homes are involved in residential developments in the county, the area has also attracted the attention of Illinois companies, with Kennedy Homes of South Barrington, Ill., selling homes in a subdivision on the north edge of Elkhorn, notes Keefe.
    "Probably every major northern Illinois home builder is active in Kenosha County," Keefe said. Chicago area production-home builders are working as far west as Rockford. If you did a circle with that diameter, we’d be in the circle."
    Keefe says the community ring of Milwaukee now extends to Elkhorn, the Walworth County seat that, until recently, was outside the development zone.
    I-43 has finally changed that.
    "Elkhorn is starting to come alive," Beers said. "Development kind of stopped before it got to Elkhorn, but since the mid-1990s, Elkhorn has really come on line as the next city along the corridor that is starting to pop."
    Part of the attraction is affordability. A typical new starter home in Elkhorn, with land, sells in the $160,000 to $200,000 range, Keefe said.
    "That’s still relatively inexpensive, compared to Brookfield, for example," he said. "And it’s certainly much more affordable than the Chicago market."
    However, prices are rising in communities along the corridor. Keefe notes that that $160,000 to $200,000 range for an Elkhorn home was $130,000 to $170,000 three to four years ago.
    Demand and the costs of government regulation are driving up the price.
    Government issues remain topical, with villages eyeing border extensions and townships seeking to protect their lands.
    "Annexation will continue to be an issue as long as one municipality has services that another does not," says Stewart Wangard, president of Wangard Partners, a Waukesha-based commercial real estate company.
    While some communities have made border accords, borders remain contentious issues elsewhere, such as in Mukwonago, which most recently has sought to annex land in the Town of Waterford to the village.
    "The I-43 corridor is one that will see a lot of interesting things happen in the next 10 years," he said. "I-43 is not known for middle to high-end homes, but that will change."
    "Walworth County has seen significant growth in the last 24 months," Wangard notes. "Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, grocers and other retailers have been active in communities along I-43."
    Among the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter locations is land near the I-43 and Highway 83 interchange in Mukwonago’s Gateway district. The company wants to put a 203,000-square-foot Supercenter there and is working with the village plan commission on design matters.
    Another attraction for the area is the traffic flow on I-43.
    "I-43 has a much lower traffic density and a much more predictable commute," Keefe add.
    Capacity is an issue closer to Milwaukee, where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to reconstruct the I-43-Moorland Road interchange in New Berlin in late 2006. Bridge replacement over Moorland Road is the main reason for the project, but other elements are planned to accommodate capacity issues.
    Among the three design options the DOT is studying for the interchange is a roundabout.
    New Berlin, which seeks to protect the rural nature of its western half, could see more housing development via the new Wildwood Preserve conservation subdivision, which the city’s planning commission approved last week.
    Wimmer Communities of Hales Corners, part of Wimmer Brothers Realty, plans to create the subdivision on the old Trees on the Move tree farm, which I-43 bisects. The 174-acre parcel is west of Calhoun Road.
    Wangard says smaller communities need to seek commercial and industrial diversity if they want to maintain a good quality of life.
    The changing economy, away from manufacturing, "is negatively impacting small to medium-size communities," Wangard says. "Communities like Lake Mills or Mayville that are dominated by one or two manufacturers need to look to diversify."

    May 14, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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