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Brookfield Plan Commission delays decision on Irgens' plan

July 8, 2014

"Something isn't better than nothing," Alderman Mark Nelson said.

Doubts were abundant and the word "disappointed" often used at the city of Brookfield Plan Commission meeting Monday night.

Commissioners voted to table two issues following the presentation of early plans by Irgens related to their development at Ruby Farm, known as The Corridor. The issue will be brought back before the Plan Commission at its next meeting, Aug. 9.

"This is the last bastion of development in this community. That is significant," Alderman Gary Makhorn said. "I would like to see something more dramatic than what's being proposed here."

Corridor aims for flowing synergy

Irgens vice president and market manager David Merrick presented parameters on the project prior to the commission's discussions.

The plan calls for 782,000 square feet of development, including 500,000 square feet of office space, 138,000 square feet of retail space, and 93,000 square feet of mixed uses including medical, hospitality, fitness, and wellness.

Office space would be located in a number of large buildings on the south end of the development near I-94. Retail would be located on the opposite end, near Bluemound Road, while the mixed-use area would be nestled between the two.

"We feel this is a very market-driven plan and it's highly achievable," Merrick said.

Merrick used the word "synergy" on multiple occasions to describe The Corridor, noting the way that the three components would work together. He also explained that Irgens is not planning on any residential space in the development, despite the city of Brookfield's desire to include it.

"The retail and the offices are kind of the core uses. Medical offices or a fitness center are great with an office park. Residential is not a synergistic use to complement (them)," Merrick said. "We just thought it made for a better flow for all the uses to feed off each other."

Not according to plan

The lack of residences in the Irgens plan was an issue for many commissioners. Director of community development Dan Ertl noted that the city's neighborhood plan for Ruby Farm, the Calhoun South Neighborhood Plan, and the city's master plan, call for housing units.

"We feel that residential can be synergistic with a development like this," Alderman Rick Owen said.

Other commissioners backed Makhorn's comments, expressing the expectation of something grander.

"When I saw the office buildings and mid-level box retail, I was disappointed because in the past we've had something that was more robust, more unique (in mind)," Nelson said. "This could just go about anywhere. While it is indeed a vacant property, just doing something isn't better than nothing. That thinking just doesn't fly in the city of Brookfield."

Ertl also noted that the city's plans call for approximately 1.2 million square feet of development at Ruby Farm, more than Irgens' proposal for 782,000.

Mayor Steve Ponto was in the minority, expressing strong support for Irgens and noting a belief that the presentation was of a tentative plan that could change as it moves forward.

"I have great confidence with Irgens. I think it's important to recognize that this is really market-driven and it's also flexible," Ponto said. "I don't think that this particular plan is set in stone."

Efforts to save barn continue

Alderman Jerry Mellone was in attendance along with over a dozen residents from the Concerned Calhoun Community, who had previously expressed disappointment with Irgens' plan to retain the Ruby Farm farmhouse but to remove the yellow barn.

"Every effort should be made to save (the barn). It is not a waste of space," Mellone relayed in a letter from the community.

Multiple commissioners agreed that more effort should be made to retain more of the historic site. Mellone noted that established city plans call for the salvation of the "property in its entirety," referring to the farmhouse and the barn.

Still, Makhorn and his colleagues were keen to point out that remedying either the barn or the lack of residences would not automatically shift the commission's view.

"It's not that if you get that residential component, everything else is out the door. That's not true," Makhorn said. "It is a substantial change to the master plan. If we're going to overcome that, there needs to be more. I'm not comfortable with moving this forward tonight."

Commissioners had been asked for their approval in order to allow for the scheduling of two public hearings. One public hearing would have called for the amendment of the city's plan for the Ruby Farm property to include Irgens' plan. The other would have been to address the creation of a "Planned Development General Plan-Mixed Use District" for the area in question.

Merrick declined to comment after the meeting and calls to Irgens seeking comment on the commission's decision were not returned by press time.

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