Everyone grew a bit older during senior center hearing

Published on: 4/26/2011

Hales Corners — The fate of the proposed Applewood Senior Living center will hang in the balance until next month.

After a marathon six-hour meeting, trustees said they needed time to regroup before voting on the proposal, which would change zoning to allow a 40-unit, one-story assisted living center at 11940 W. Edgerton Ave.

"Let's take a clean look at all of this in two weeks," Village Board Trustee Donald Schwartz suggested as the clock slid toward 1 a.m. Tuesday.

Forcing super-majority vote

When they meet May 9, the board will need at least six out of seven trustees to approve or defeat the proposal for the $2.5 million senior housing facility. Neighbors succeeded Monday in a last-minute effort to force a three-fourths, or super-majority, vote.

Led by recent municipal judge candidate and Hales Corners attorney Frank Liska, neighbors presented more than 100 signatures opposing the project. Their petition demanded the super-majority action.

Village officials reviewed the documents with Petrauski's lawyer before deciding the demand was valid.

A lot to hear

The idea has met with strong opposition from neighbors and has found sound support from those who have watched an Applewood facility in New Berlin for more than 10 years.

About 40 people gathered when a public hearing about the Applewood proposal in Hales Corners began about 6:45 p.m. Monday. About a dozen diehards remained by the time the matter was tabled more than six hours later.

It was not the first time Applewood developer Greg Petrauski has faced such opposition. It was standing-room only in New Berlin when he presented his proposal for a facility there in 1997.

"All 32 neighbors were against us, sort of like tonight. They felt that we were the demise of the neighborhood," he said.

Feared impact of facility

No one beat the drum that an Applewood facility in Hales Corners, which would have 24-hour nursing care for the frail elderly, would outright ruin the neighborhood.

But of the 25 people who spoke against the project, many were concerned that the football field-sized building would deflate property values, increase flooding from stormwater runoff, exacerbate traffic issues and, if funding for elderly care deteriorates, open the door for low-income housing - a possibility residents roundly rejected.

Several residents said their chief gripe that the scale of the project had changed from 20 units to 40. One woman, who spoke with Petrauski in her home before the meeting, said she felt "sucker punched" to learn that the project's size had doubled. Others said they would have supported the proposal if it had stuck with a plan for only 20 units.

Softening proposal's impact

Petrauski defended his project, insisting that any changes made to his plan were made with the neighborhood in mind and that he never tried to fool the community into accepting 40 units versus 20.

He agreed to trim the building size by 32 feet and install a 5½-foot berm at the front of the property, along with additional landscaping, to reduce the building's visibility. He outlined plans for additional storm water management, including a dry basin and two bio-ponds lined six feet deep with plants and stones, which an engineer argued would improve drainage three-fold, if not more.

Petrauski also committed to using the building only to serve the frail elderly, gave up the chance to ask for any extensions of 118th Street, which would intersect Applewood, and agreed that the facility would not be tax exempt.

He presented signatures from 15 neighbors who supported the project, including one close neighbor who wrote a letter to show his "complete support" for the Applewood proposal.

Two New Berlin residents - a Common Council member who served during Applewood's expansion there and a neighbor whose property abuts the Moorland Road facility - also spoke up for the project. Both men agreed the facility was virtually invisible in their community, largely because of landscaping, and that the center had proven to be an asset for the elderly.

Hales Corners Village Board President Robert Ruesch, whose mother-in-law lives at the Applewood facility in New Berlin, also supported the project.