OnFocus – At the October 21 Plan Commission meeting, members reviewed a Conditional Use request that would allow non-students to reside at the Villas at Marshfield, an apartment complex across from UW-Stevens Point at Marshfield campus originally zoned for student housing.
Incidentally, non-students have already been living there, occupying approximately 25% of the student housing complex, which creates a unique situation for the Commission to evaluate.
“Earlier this year, City staff reached out to the Villas after hearing about possible non-students renting rooms there,” said City Planner Bryce Hembrook. “Upon contacting the Villas, they stated they have some apartments rented to non-students, but it’s based on a tiered system and students would have the highest priority.”
According to the 2017-2022 University of Wisconsin – Marshfield/Wood County Campus Master Plan, the main purpose of the Villas is to provide housing for students attending UW-Marshfield/Wood County (now known as University of Wisconsin Stevens Point at Marshfield), but to also serve students attending Mid-State Technical College, interns at the medical complex, and/or in other education programs. The building is located on land that was gifted from the UW Commission to the UW Foundation.
Approved in 2013 and built in 2014, The Villas are privately owned and operated by Bluffstone, Inc, and consist of 24 apartment style suites, each with four bedrooms and two baths. Located at 2313 West 5th Street, the Villas are currently zoned as a “CD” Campus Development district.
According to the Campus Master Plan, the building is intended to provide housing to students and individuals involved in educational programs in Marshfield and not to the general public. If the Villas is able to rent to the general public, then it is considered to be an Apartment land use, and would need a different Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate that way.
Members of the general public began residing at The Villas in 2019. Due to declining occupancy, the local and regional property managers had prior to this met with MACCI and the UW Foundation to discuss occupancy issues and seek way to find a solution and also meet the housing needs in Marshfield. They determined that there may be an opportunity to provide units to people they consider “near students”. Although these “near students” are not necessarily UW students, they would be similar to their target market in terms of occupancy length, goals, and interests.
“The City was not aware of those discussions at the time, so we were unable to inform them of the Conditional Use, which is why we are here now,” said Hembrook, who added that the owner submitted the request for a new CUP after learning about the issue and is seeking a temporary fix from the Plan Commission.
The Commission questioned why approval was not sought prior to allowing non-students to live at The Villas.
“I don’t think they realized they needed approval,” said Hembrook. “After we reached out to them, they were quick to submit this application.”
Staff recommended the Plan Commission deny the conditional use request because the initial approval for The Villas was based on the premise that it would be intended to be available to students involved in educational programs and the conditional use permit that was approved was specifically for an Institutional Residential land use. Staff also recommended further research into other concerns related to the request prior to moving forward with any approval.
“Staff believes that approving this request without any conditions could become a slippery slope because the building could become more like an apartment and less like student housing,” said Hembrook.
Robert Halle, a resident who lives in the UW area, spoke about his concerns with The Villas.
“The problem we’ve been seeing with the Villas lately is with the number of police calls,” he said. “I would at least put this forward, that you look into these police calls….By allowing more leniency in the occupancy, I don’t think is going to add any relief to this situation. So I would hope that you would at least visit those concerns before you make any decisions now or in the future.”
Pat Sherman, owner of BluffStone, Inc, added that his company is willing to work with the UW and community to find a solution.
“From a group, we are 100% lockstep with the University and the Foundation,” he said. “Our goals are aligned. We all try to do the right thing for the school.”
The Commission moved to carry over the discussion into the next meeting, to provide more opportunity to review concerns.
“What I would want to know is what happens to these non-students if there’s an influx of students wanting to move in? Either we’re kicking non-students out or students are being denied access. What is the policy going to be?” said Commissioner Steven Okonek. “That would be a question I would for sure want answered next month.”
“What would happen if we say ‘no’?” added Alderman Quentin Rosandich.
“It’s something we would work with the City Attorney on,” explained Development Services Director Josh Miller. “We would have some discussion with staff on how to enforce it. I don’t think the intent would be to kick someone out.”
The Plan Commission is scheduled to meet next month to further discuss this subject.
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