River Hills Buying 55 Acre Lot to Settle $3 Million Suit
Residents fought a 154-unit apartment proposal for the lot in 2017.
The Village of River Hills will purchase 55 mostly undeveloped acres at 1620-1980 W. Brown Deer Rd. to dismiss a Federal Fair Housing lawsuit brought in 2019 by Randle River Hills, LLC, (RRH, LLC.) owner of what is known as “Eder Farm.”
Development of the property was a hotly contested issue in 2017 when Mandel Group proposed construction of 154 luxury apartments in five three-story buildings circled like covered wagons surrounding a campfire. The idea of apartments, luxury or not, was anathema to residents of the village, which for most of its 5.1 square mile area is zoned strictly for single-family housing on five acre lots, as it has been since its incorporation in 1930. The village (population 1,591) is known for housing landlords, not tenants.
“Save River Hills” signs in red and white sprouted along the village’s leafy lanes. The developers held an informational meeting across the street at the Lynden Sculpture Gallery, which we covered in this November 2017 article.
Mandel later withdrew from the project, after which RRH, LLC. proposed substantially the same project on its own. In May 2019, the village denied a comprehensive plan amendment, a zoning change and a special use permit, all of which would have been required for the project to proceed.
In November 2019, RRH, LLC attorney Stephen Kravit filed a $3 million Federal Fair Housing lawsuit alleging that the village’s restrictive and exclusive zoning violated rights of minorities, the elderly and disabled, not to mention the property rights of its owner. It also contends the village violated the state’s “Smart Growth Law,” which seeks development of diverse communities, including minorities, the aged and disabled.
Board Agenda Hints at Resolution
The Village of River Hills Board of Trustees convened in closed session as its first order of business on Monday, Aug. 10 for the purpose of:
Conferring with legal counsel for the Village who is rendering oral and/or written advice concerning strategy to be adopted by the body with respect to RRH LLC litigation in which it is involved.
After reconvening in open session, the trustees considered routine items like the treasurer’s report and the voucher list, finally arriving at the final Agenda Item #11:
Discussion and Action Regarding RESOLUTION 2020-09 Resolution of Necessity for Acquisition of Certain Land in the Village of River Hills
The board had met via Zoom, however the record of the meeting had expired by Tuesday, when I first started researching the topic. It being Election Day, I knew it was no time to disturb Tammy LaBorde, who as River Hills Manager/Clerk/Treasurer, certainly had her hands full. I contacted her on Wednesday, asking for clarification on the issue. The response came Thursday, in the form of a statement issued by James Madlom of Mueller Communications, Inc.
Statement by Village Manager
LaBorde issued this statement:
“The Village is currently in the process of completing the details of a settlement agreement with RRH LLC. Under that agreement, the lawsuit will be dismissed and the land currently owned by RRH LLC will be conveyed to the Village. The Resolution of Necessity, approved by the Village Board on Monday, is part of that process. We anticipate being able to share more information in the coming weeks.”
Settlement Coming in October
Attorney Kravit shared a letter with Urban Milwaukee dated Friday, Aug. 14, in which he wrote to U.S. Circuit Court Judge Lynn Adelman explaining that the case has been settled. And that the settlement will likely be finalized on Oct. 30, at which time both parties will move to have the case dismissed.
Future Plans Unknown
In addition to its undisclosed purchase price, acquisition of the property would cost the village about $40,000 in existing property tax revenue derived in part from two single family homes located along Brown Deer Road.
It is not known what is to happen to the homes, or their current tenants. Back in 2017, opponents offered a number of suggestions as an alternative to the apartment development, while still keeping some or all on the tax rolls. They included developing the farm according to existing zoning, or possibly doing so only along Greenbrook Lane, its northern border. A hybrid proposal was also mentioned by an attendee at the hearing at Lynden Sculpture Garden, who suggested a portion of the land could be set aside as a nature preserve.
Since the village has no public space other than the grounds of the Village Hall, perhaps a park might be a consideration. The land drains poorly, so perhaps MMSD might be interested in acquiring it as part of its Greenseams Project. We anticipate being able to share more information in the coming weeks, once we hear from the village.
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