One of two memory care facilities clears Mequon Planning Commission hurdle

Azura proposal tabled after neighbor outcry

Jan. 21, 2014

Mequon — Two separate memory care providers pitched their proposals to the Planning Commission on Monday and only one of them made it through.

The Artis Residence, a roughly 30,000-square-foot, 72-bed memory care facility planned at 11900 North Port Washington Road, was approved unanimously after a relatively short discussion among commissioners, city staff and Artis Senior Living representatives. Artis' rezoning request, conditional use grant, and building plans will go on to the Common Council with a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission.

But deliberations over the 60-bed Azura Memory Care of Mequon facility, planned for the former Beth El synagogue property at 2803 West Mequon Road, were tabled after the combination of conflicting accounts from neighbors and the developer, impassioned testimony and unresolved details proved too much for commissioners to sort out in one evening.

Commissioners Martin Choren, Pat Marchese, John Mason, Chuck Western and Dave Fuchs voted to table the Azura proposal until the commission's next meeting. Commissioners John Stoker, Andrew Nerbun, and Chairwoman Pam Adams, who was sitting in for excused Mayor Dan Abendroth, voted against the tabling.

Points of conflict

Several neighbors to the proposed Azura facility have filed protest petitions with the city. Since they together own more than 20 percent of the property abutting the site, Azura's zoning request will need super majority approval, or at least six of eight yes votes, when the Common Council makes a final decision in the coming months.

Heading the petitioners is Ned Timarac, whose property abuts about 40 percent of the proposed facility. Timarac told the commission that he's prepared to do "whatever it takes" to stop the Azura project.

Throughout a passionate, nearly 30-minute plea to the commission, Timarac criticized city staff for recommending approval of the project, said the facility would have a disastrous effect on his and others' property values and implored commissioners to relocate Azura into a commercial corridor like Port Washington Road.

"(Azura), God bless them, they should go somewhere else," Timarac said. "They should not ruin our lives, and this project would."

Timarac said he has submitted his own offer to purchase the land from Beth El and if successful would preserve the current residential zoning.

Conflicting accounts

However, the neighbors' contention that the Azura property will hurt their property values came into question as the conversation wore on. City planners said that similar developments, like the Newcastle Place and Sarah Chudnow retirement communities, faced similar criticism during their planning stages but didn't end up affecting nearby property values.

"I know it's somewhat dangerous to compare one project to another, but we didn't really see any change," Assistant Community Development Director Jac Zader said.

A detailed report on property value effects was requested by commissioners for their next deliberation of the Azura proposal.

Also conflicted were the neighbors' arguments that stormwater runoff from the facility would stagnate behind the property and taint their well water, and that the developer had not attempted to contact them.

City staff pointed out the retention pond included in the design would drain quickly after a storm and the developers said they met with several neighbors and attempted to reach others.

Precedent and implications

Marchese urged the rest of the commission to deny Azura's request. He said approving the zoning change could set a precedent which could incrementally commercialize the Mequon Road corridor.

"I know it's really hard to say no," Marchese said. "But sometimes for the greater good, to maintain our community, we have to be very careful and say, 'we love you guys, but not here.'"

Fuchs, on the other hand, said the project is a good fit for the site due to its design, which is themed to mimic the residential character of the area.

"It's seems a project of this nature is the best compromise (between residential and commercial)," Fuchs said, "because it's close to being residential but brings substantial tax revenue to the city."

Mason made the motion to table the deliberations with the intent of buying time to resolve issues with the neighbors and get the report on property value effects. It was seconded by Marchese.

Azura President and CEO Josh McClellan said the company doesn't have a "Plan-B" for another Mequon site.

"This site is a unique site," McClellan said. "All the reasons the residents love it are the reasons we love it for our future residents."


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