Plan to re-develop the historic Thomas family farm in Delafield Stalls

CITY OF DELAFIELD — After a three-year saga, the Thomas family on March 1 presented two options for redeveloping longtime family land near Interstate 94 to the planning commission, a proposal that has in the past sparked controversy. categorical opposition from residents.

The two plans — both for a large residential development on Golf Road — include single-family homes, multi-family homes and condominiums, as well as common areas like a park, pond and paved pathways. Plan A included 305 units, with more lots of single-family homes than condos and other rental properties. Plan B had 285 units with more rental units, multi-family homes and condos and less single-family lots.

The plans were presented by George Erwin, the attorney representing the Thomas family, and Josh Pudelko of Engineering Triowho was hired to create the plans.

About 50 people attended the meeting, the latest in what has been a roughly three-year charivari surrounding the redevelopment of Thomas Farm, a 150-acre lot off I-94 on Golf Road between Glen Cove Roads and Elmhurst. No public comment was allowed during the meeting as no decision or action was expected.

City Engineer Tim Barbeau answered most of the commission’s questions and highlighted the increase in population the project would cause, as well as other related issues, as key points to consider.

“Usually we determine density based on zoning on (the property) and then layout and things like that come later,” Barbeau said during the meeting. “I know you mean, ‘Well, I like plan B or I like plan A,’ but those plans can change over time with lots of feedback. I think unit count is the issue to focus on here and see where the best point is.

In 2021, the plan commission approved a zoning ordinance for 404 units and sent it to city council, but it was never voted on and instead returned to the plan commission for further review.

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Although the two new proposals included fewer units than previously requested, some commissioners still expressed concerns about the size of the subdivision. Although Erwin begged the commission to give him the number of units they would approve, no number was officially given or agreed upon.

Commissioner Edward Kranick offered 250 units as a potential “win-win”, but no other commissioner spoke out for or against that figure.

“We can debate until the cows come home about the multifamily, the size and those discussions that we can get to at another time,” Kranick said during the meeting. “We started at close to 500, if we get down to 250, I can go to my constituents and neighbors and say we’ve won… We’re getting protections here that we didn’t have before, and if the family and Mr. Erwin can compromise on this and we can figure out how to make it work.”

Erwin did not comment on Kranick’s suggestion.

“It’s an ongoing discussion,” Erwin said after the meeting. “The ultimate goal here is always to make sure that what we approve is economically viable. It makes no sense to approve a project if the result is that no one would want to develop it because there is no no reasonable return on investment, and that’s the compromise we’re trying to get the community to buy into.

The discussion was eventually postponed to a future meeting. It is not yet known when the proposal will return to the agenda of a planning commission.

“They wanted a number, and we gave them a number in 250 units,” Planning Commission Chairman Kevin Fitzgerald said in a phone interview after the meeting. “I expect the family to meet and either agree with that number and come up with a new concept plan, or if they say it doesn’t work, we’ll see where we go.

“If it’s the first, I expect city staff to take that concept plan and revise the ordinance and that would be presented to a public hearing.”

This is the proposed Site Plan B for the Thomas Farm development in the City of Delafield.  The plan includes 285 units with more rental units, multi-family homes and condos and less single-family lots.

Efforts to redevelop the Thomas family farm have failed in the past

The Thomas family has owned the land for 150 years. When they decided to sell the property, the developers showed interest. The land has been divided into two areas over the past 35 years. The southern 100 acres, along Golf Road, are zoned as commercial and agricultural. The northern 50 acres are zoned as agriculture, but could be rezoned for residential.

Seeing little interest in an office park that could go to the southern part, the Thomas family in 2019 petitioned the planning commission to rezone the 100 acres to mixed commercial use. This would allow the land to be used for light industry, commercial offices, businesses, medical services and single and multi-family housing.

The planning commission’s first zoning ordinance was not well received by nearby housing estates. A one-hour city council meeting in February 2020 was filled entirely with public comment and ended without a vote and the ordinance defeated.

The county then intervened to create an unofficial working group for the project bringing together representatives of the municipality, owners of Thomas farmland, neighboring municipalities and some promoters. They met six to eight times over approximately four months and came up with a residential concept for the land in the spring of 2021.

The planning commission drafted a new zoning ordinance later in 2021, based on recommendations from the task force, which defined the plot into five zones each with a specific type of housing and focused entirely on residential development, the only mixed use being the residence for the elderly.

The municipal council never adopted this proposal; instead, the plan returned to the plan commission, first reappearing on the March 1 agenda.

Water supply and increased traffic remain major concerns

No public comment was allowed at the March 1 meeting, but the city expects residents to attend upcoming hearings on the matter.

Previous concerns raised by neighbors include the water supply and the effect it could have on their wells, increased traffic on Glen Cove and Elmhurst roads and ensuring a development would comply with similar aesthetics. All were part of the discussion at the last planning commission meeting.

City President Ron Troy said he expects a protest petition to be filed by neighbors. If such a petition is tabled, the city council’s vote approving the project would need to be a supermajority, or four out of five votes, instead of the three out of five votes required for approval under normal circumstances.

Drew Dawson covers the Lake Country region. He can be reached at [email protected] or (262) 289-1324.

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