Watertown’s City Council sat down to talk about some big projects. The biggest of these was a new housing development sketch for the River Ridge property. This property is the space just behind Christ Community Lutheran School, with the owners looking to place 84 single-home lots throughout development.

Mark Kaltsas, city development consultant, presented on the River Ridge Sketch Plan. The applicant and owner approached the city to develop the property. Currently, the property is considered agricultural land. However, as part of the 2040 Comprehensive Plan for Watertown, it’s designated as low-density residential, so the owner and applicant are seeking to switch it to low density now for development. The plan is to work in two subdivisions. The North side would have 27 houses, and the south side taking 57 houses.

Kaltsas also clarified that this was just an informational session for the council to ask questions and discuss what they would like to see through the project. There would be no motions taken for this particular item.

Part of a new neighborhood development is access roads. There are a few options for vehicular access, with two coming from County Road 10 and one looping around the back of the school. Planning Commission and city staff are already working with Christ Community Lutheran to come up with the ideal solution for both parties.

Since the development is in between two others, access between the other neighborhoods is also an option. For example, Ridge River would be connected to Sugarbush Park, so the Planning Commission is considering at least pedestrian access if not vehicular. The same goes for the opposite end in Wildflower.

Landscaping is also a big consideration for Watertown developments. Berming and tree requirements are already being taken into consideration. The east side of the property already has a fair amount of trees, with some needing to be removed for houses eventually. The rest of it, though, would need to be planned in advance. Christ Community Lutheran would need to have some additional buffering provided.

Council discussion started with focusing on access to the Ridge River development. Because the proposed access points are very close to the school and Madison Road, there are some concerns in regards to safety and efficiency. Particularly on Madison for councilmember Lindsay Guetzkow, who stated that Madison is already being considered for a traffic and pedestrian study and experiences heavy and fast traffic.

“At what point should we be pressuring the county to move our city speed limit south?” she asked.

Council also preferred connections between the neighborhoods, though pedestrian only. Access to the school would also be ideal. Michael Walters, councilmember, proposed a possible sidewalk to the school. Dan Schuette, councilmember, agreed, and added that turn lanes should also be considered.

Regarding a few walking trails connecting to the new development, councilmembers expressed that there should be some consistency. Adam Pawelk, councilmember, proposed paving all the trails as a few are. Other councilmembers stated that at least the trails should have gravel with the possibility of black top in the future. A trail to the school would also be a plus, and the completion of the “trail to nowhere” near Tuscany Village. Council also agreed that a trail along 10 would be ideal, but that would be more left up to the county.

Because there’s a large forested section in the current lot, council did express concerns that much of it would be lost due to the development. Mayor Steve Washburn asked the council how much liberty the owner should have when it comes to removing trees. Members expressed that cutting the trees wouldn’t just affect the new development, but also the developments surrounding Ridge River since it would remove some buffer and change their view.

Guetzkow pointed out that some trees could be removed. While preserving the canopy is important, several trees in the area are dead. She proposed the idea of planting replacement trees that are hardier to help maintain the canopy that everyone loves while removing some less desirable portions of the forest.

While discussions will continue going forward for the Ridge River, council also expressed that they were very excited to see the property finally beginning to develop. They are looking forward to working with the applicant to get this project started and will continue to keep the community apprised of any plans.

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