Neighbors raise concerns about conversion of former parish center into home for disabled adults
Despite residents expressing an array of concerns, Town of Belgium Plan Commission members approved a proposal to convert the former St. Mary Lake Church parish center and rectory into an eight-bed, community-based residential facility and single-family apartment.
Following a public hearing on March 25 that more than 30 people attended, drawing comments both for and against the proposal, officials recommended to the Town Board that the land owned by Divine Savior Parish be converted into a CBRF, which will be operated by Individual Growth Services.
The company runs seven residential care facilities in Ozaukee County targeted for adults with developmental disabilities.
“We are willing to make an investment above and beyond what we would be purchasing the land for,” Shawn Miles, owner of IGS, said.
“I have no intent of selling the company. My son is in college and has said he some day hopes to take it over.”
Some residents who live near the buildings, church, cemetery and former school at 6092 Lake Church Rd., expressed concerns ranging from declining property values, increased noise levels and fear of the CBRF some day changing its intended use.
“I moved out into the country 25 years ago because I wanted the country atmosphere,” said Ralph Dewall, who lives across the street from the property.
“The parish enjoyed that building without paying taxes on it for how long? Now they want to dump the property off.
“I have great concern with what might happen down the line as well as the uncertainty of how it might affect property values.”
Town Chairman Tom Winker, who is also chairman of the Plan Commission, said he was unsure how he felt about the proposal when it was first presented in February, but said he supported it after considerable thought.
“My oldest daughter was physically handicapped,” Winker said. “I know a lot of people who have individuals like this in their care. We can come together and make this work.”
Miles said planned upgrades like interconnected smoke detectors, widened doorways, zero depth showers, a sprinkler system, well and possibly a new septic system will likely total an additional $80,000.
“Even if an opportunity came up for someone else to purchase this, nobody would want to make the kind of investment we’re making,” Miles, who went to school at St. Mary’s, said.
Neighbors also expressed concern that more ambulances would be called to the property.
“At our most medically needy facility, we have an ambulance come out about once every three months,” Miles said.
Lake Church resident Kerry Hunsicker, who lives near the property, said priority should be given to residents who live in the Belgium area.
Miles agreed, saying priority will likely be given to clients who live in
Ozaukee County, adding Belgium-area residents would likely have the highest priority.
“We support residents who are in
Belgium that have developmental disabilities,” he said. “We try to place residents close to home.”
Some commission members asked if the property could be given conditional use status, but Zoning
Administrator Charlie Parks said that wasn’t allowed under state law.
Plan Commission member Al Poull said he supported the plan, saying IGS is an organization the town should be proud to work with.
“What Shawn and his organization brings is probably more stable than someone who could move in next door to you,” he said. “Nobody likes something unknown.”
Cheri Farnsworth, who lives in Lake Church, spoke in favor of the plan.
“My son Brady has cerebral palsy and he moved into an IGS home a few years ago,” she said. “The care he gets is amazing.
“Change is in the wind in Lake Church. We don’t want the building sitting there dilapidated.”
There are still several steps to complete before the project can begin, Parks, who is also a Plan Commission member, said.
First, the Town Board must approve the zoning change request from park to residential, followed by the Zoning Board of Appeals approving a variance for the land because it will be deemed a “substandard,” or smaller property.
“We don’t have the power to create smaller properties,” Parks said. “But there is a remedy and that is done by the Zoning Board.”
Then, the Plan Commission will have to approve design plans.
Preliminary plans call for the parcels to be split into 1.5-acre lots with the parish continuing to operate the church and cemetery.
Winker said it’s important that the town work together on implementing the changes.
“If we do this right, we could be a shining example for the community,” he said. “We can’t just dump this on the neighbors.
“Let’s try to minimize the change.”