Developer Unveils 'New Ruralist' Proposal

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MTT News Desk's picture
Matt Geiger
Pleasant View Ridge would include a working farm, pictured above.

The Middleton City Council last week got its first glimpse of a development proposal that would transform 162 acres of rural land between U.S. Highway 14 and Pleasant View Golf Course into an assortment of residential neighborhoods situated around a working farm.

Erdman Holdings, Inc. submitted early-stage conceptual plans for the project, which is being called Pleasant View Ridge. The developer indicated it needs feedback from city leaders before returning with a more refined proposal.

Planning documents show Pleasant View Ridge containing 104 home sites on lots both large and small.

About half of the homes would be on parcels of about 6,500 square feet and would utilize community septic.  The larger home sites, occupying about 20,000 square feet, would use individual septic systems. 

Proponents of community and individual septic systems (as opposed to urban utilities) say are environmentally friendly because they help recharge groundwater.

The developer hopes to break ground in 2014 and complete the project by the end of 2019.

Erdman is best known in the Good Neighbor City as the developer behind Middleton Hills, an exercise in new urbanism.

An April 9 letter from Erdman’s Jane Grabowski-Miller to city leadership indicated the new proposal is based on the related ideology of “new ruralism.”

“Building on the principles and practices of new urbanism, Pleasant View Ridge will have the features of new ruralism which, as defined by the Urban Land Institute, combines the development of livable communities with the preservation of a community’s rural character, often through sustainable agricultural practices and clustered home sites,” Grabowski-Miller wrote.

In a subsequent interview with the Times-Tribune, Grabowski-Miller went on to say the philosophy is intended to work as an antidote to urban sprawl.

The design team behind Pleasant View Ridge consists of D’Onofrio, Kottke and Associates, and Farmer D Organics. Grabowski-Miller called them “national leaders in oganic and biodynamic farming, landscape architecture, farmland preservation and conservation community planning and design.”

She said the project would place an emphasis on “outdoor enjoyment” and include walking trails and ample parkland. It would be adjacent to the City of Middleton’s Pleasant View Golf Course, which doubles as a cross-country skiing destination in the winter months.

The proposal contains an option for lots situated on the golf course.

The land where Erdman hopes to build is currently zoned for agricultural use. It’s owned by the developer and located in the Town of Middleton.

Under Erdman’s proposal, the land would be annexed into the neighboring City of Middleton. (Annexation requires the consent of the landowner and the city into which the land will be moved. It does not require the town’s complicity.)

While the likelihood of multiple new high voltage transmission lines crossing the Town of Middleton has many residents there concerned, Grabowski-Miller said the lines would probably run along the border of Pleasant View Golf Course or inside the easement along Highway 14, not through the residential neighborhoods being proposed.

Supporters of Pleasant View Ridge said the farm would serve as a cultural hub for the surrounding single-family units.

“The philosophy is that the town center, rather than being commercial, is the farm,” said Grabowski-Miller. “The details are still being worked out, but the idea is for the farm to be a self-sustaining business; it could support a CSA, it could sell to local farmers’ markets, and it could even have a farmers’ market there. Maybe in addition to vegetables there will be chickens, or bees.”

Erdman brought in Farmer D Organics to refine the agricultural aspects of the proposal.  Daron Joffe, Farmer D’s founder and president, said his company has worked to bring sustainable agriculture to a variety of places, “from youth prisons to high end resorts.”

“Development is going to happen,” said Joffe. “Our goal is to preserve agriculture when it does.”

“This is all still very conceptual, and each project is unique to the nuances of climate and the land,” he continued. “In theory, it would be something like my farm in Viroqua; the food wouldn’t have to travel far to reach the consumer, and it would provide a way for residents to be connected to the land and to their food.”

Joffe described agriculture as a form of amenity. “It’s kind of the new golf,” he stated.

Planning documents show the farm at Pleasant View Ridge occupying between five and 10 acres.

The developer’s financial backing would assure that agriculture stayed part of the land, Joffe asserted.

“Any farmer knows how difficult it is to get started,” he said. “The overhead and the risk are so daunting. But in this scenario, the developer can help incubate the farm and get it past that initial five-year hurdle.”

Joffe said the project being drawn up would “attract a very dynamic group of people” to the residential portions of the development.

Alderman Jim Wexler (Dist. 4) responded positively to last week’s pitch, saying he “is really looking forward to making it a reality.”

Grabowski-Miller said she hopes other city leaders embrace the project in the same manner.

“Middleton Hills was a new idea, and I think this is a new idea too,” she said. “But in some ways I actually don’t think this is really all that radical.”










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