One of Dane County's wealthiest enclaves faces a tough test of its liberal ideals.
A developer is asking Shorewood Hills, a lakeside village of mostly single-family homes just west of the UW-Madison campus, to rezone 2.4 acres on University Avenue to build apartments for lower-income renters.
But some Shorewood Hills residents say the project would strain the village's modest police force and other municipal services and be detrimental to its character.
"People who live here are in for the long haul," Tim Rikkers, a Village Board member, said at a public hearing this week. "This project increases the voting rolls by 20 percent with people who have different values - I'm not saying bad values - but different values from what we have here."
Others insist the village has an obligation to provide homes for the less fortunate.
"I find it embarrassing," Bill Thomas said of opposition to the project. "I hear people speaking against the very idea of having rental housing. In terms of doing its part to meet the need for affordable housing, the village is so far behind the rest of the county, it's ridiculous."
The proposed six-story, 69-unit apartment building would replace the nearly vacant Pyare Square building, an iconic 14-story cylindrical tower, at 4610 University Ave. It would be adjacent to a strip mall, across the street from the Hilldale Shopping Center and separated from Blackhawk Country Club by a bike path.
Andover Hill Investments of Warrenville, Ill., has requested rezoning for the rental project. It would be financed through the state-administered Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, under which tax credits are issued in return for creation of housing for people with lower incomes.
Under program guidelines, some renters could have household incomes no greater than 50 percent of the county median - $28,000 for a single person to $40,000 for a family of four. Other renters would be limited to incomes no greater than 60 percent of the county median. Developer David Bornstein said renters would be "moderate-income" people such as teachers and employees of nearby retail outlets, hospitals and government offices.
Rent would range from $635 for one bedroom to $1,050 for three, he said.
Bornstein is a 1988 Memorial High School graduate who once worked at the Blackhawk Country Club in the village.
"One of the reasons I went into this project is I respect Shorewood Hills as a community of quality and diversity," Bornstein said.
The earliest the Village Board could decide on the zoning request would be in a meeting in February, Village Administrator Karl Frantz said.
Maple Bluff Lite?
The village's comprehensive plan calls for creation of multifamily housing, but a project this big could strain municipal services and the village's low tax rate, he said.
In any case, it's not clear that the board will approve the project, given the conflict that has surfaced at public meetings.
"There is a bit of a tension there," Frantz said.
Village Board member Marilyn Townsend said she believes the people she represents oppose the project.
Rikkers, also a board member, said the renters aren't right for Shorewood Hills because they are "transient."
At a Village Board hearing Tuesday, several people spoke against the proposal, while a few supported it.
"The (developer's) presentation makes it sound idyllic with beautiful apartments with nice high ceilings, and stuff like this," said Alain Peyrot, who lives on University Bay Drive. "But you have to realize that if they can't fill it with the intended crowd ... 10 years down the road, the mix and the kind of people who move in there would be very different."
Several opponents said adding 69 homes to a community - plus a possible second phase with 58 senior citizen apartments - that currently has about 630 households would be too drastic.
"It would be a historic change for a community that is now dedicated to single-family" housing, said Charles Palit, who lives on University Bay Drive. "It is not that we are a bunch of fat cats who don't care about our fellows."
Santhia Brandt, who lives on Cornell Court, said she is concerned the development would lead to more regulation of rental properties, making it harder for families who rent out their homes when they travel abroad.
But Ed Garvey, a Shorewood Hills resident, leader of progressive causes in Dane County and the Democratic nominee for governor in 1998, said he is concerned about opposition to including renters in the village.
"If the attitude is that we don't want anybody in here who rents, it tells a lot," Garvey said.
He invoked the name of another small lakefront community in Dane County that has a reputation, and voting record, as being more conservative than Shorewood Hills.
"We do have to be careful not to become 'Maple Bluff Lite,' " Garvey said. "We need to have some diversity."