WILLIAMS BAY — A request that would eventually allow two homes to be built on wooded property often referred to as Frost Woods has advanced from the village plan commission to village board.
Owners of the wooded property have applied to amend the village’s comprehensive plan to allow for future residential development but some neighbors of the property are contesting the prospect.
Property owners Michael and Tracey Sierakowski purchased two adjacent plots in early 2020 with plans of building their retirement home on the property.
One 1.75-acre parcel they purchased from Benjamin Weiss is currently zoned residential while the other 9.78-acre parcel they purchased from the University of Chicago is zoned institutional.
The university formerly owned the Yerkes Observatory building and campus along with some other nearby parcels. The university still owns a 8.73-acre lakeshore parcel near the observatory it hopes to have rezoned from institutional to residential.
With construction of their home limited by setback restrictions and the small residential lot size, the Sierakowski’s applied for the village to amend its comprehensive plan to allow for future rezoning of the larger, institutional parcel.
The couple is requesting the village amend its comprehensive plan to allow for the property to be zoned as residential rather than its current institutional designation and to combine the two parcels into one.
The Williams Bay Plan Commission considered the application during their Jan. 12 meeting but tabled the matter to allow for information on what future development plans might entail and to consult with village attorney Mark Schroeder on the application.
Residential development on wooded properties surrounding the Yerkes Observatory has been a contentious matter. A local group of land preservationists have filed a petition with the village to halt residential development on wooded lakefront property just south of Yerkes Observatory which is still owned by the University of Chicago.
During the Jan. 12 meeting multiple residents spoke out against the comprehensive plan amendment citing concerns the woods may be impacted by future development, that the woods may contain valuable archeological artifacts which could be damaged by development and that the lots could be subdivided in the future for more dense development.
Chad Pollard, an attorney with Clair Law who is representing the Sierakowski’s in their request, said during the meeting a deed restriction could be adopted, preventing the combined lots from being subdivided.
The commission revisited the request during a Feb. 9 meeting, where Pollard presented additional information on the proposed future development.
Pollard said during the meeting that under the deed restriction, the 11 acres of property would be limited to just two home sites, one of which is the site of a current residence where the Sierakowski’s plan to build their new home.
During the meeting Mike Sierakowski said while he does not intend to ever build on the second home site, he wants to establish it so his children may build on it if they wish upwards of 15 years from now.
In addition to the deed restriction, Pollard said the Sierakowski’s would also abide by a recommendation from the South Eastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission that residential development is permitted on primary environmental corridors — which the property is on — so long as they have a density of 5-acres or more.
Mike Sierakowski said during the meeting he and his family have lived in Williams Bay since 1973 and he is not in favor of high density development in the village or the destruction of local forests.
He said as a former environmental camp counselor for George Williams College he spent a great deal of time walking camps through the woods around Yerkes Observatory and that both he and his family have a personal connection to the woods.
“This forest means a lot to us, we don’t want to develop it, we don’t want to strip out the forests and the trees,” he said.
As owner and potentially future resident of the property, Mike Sierakowski said he plans to help maintain the woods by clearing downed limbs, allowing new plant life to crop up that would otherwise be choked out.
“That forest is in desperate need of being maintained,” he said.
Commissioner Maggies Gage said many people do not realize the work that goes into restoring a woodland and that she is pleased the Sierakowski’s are willing to help the woods.
“I think it’s a worthwhile undertaking,” she said.
During the public hearing portion of the Feb. 9 meeting, neighbors of the property had mixed reactions on the proposal.
Daniel Essington, the owner of a home on Dartmouth Road just east of the woodlands, said in a letter submitted to the village that construction on the land would inevitably impact the woods and that he has concerns residential development could cause future drainage issues in the area.
Essington also said in the letter that many homeowners near the woods purchased homes in the area specifically because of the privacy the woodland affords and that it would be unfair to change them.
“It will change the character of the neighborhood forever,” he said in the letter.
Nathan Bond, a Williams Bay resident living on Stam Street, said it is clear the woods are in need of maintenance and that he believes the Sierakowski’s will be a benefit to the woods.
“I would like my neighbors on Dartmouth [Road] and in the area to see the benefits of owners like the Sierakowski’s,” he said.
Following public comments, commissioner and village trustee Don Parker made a motion to recommend the village board hold a public hearing to allow for public comment before considering approval of the application. The motion passed unanimously.
Parker said he supports the comprehensive plan amendment because the purpose of the land has changed. While the property was formerly owned by an institution and was thus zoned institutional, there is no longer an institution connected to the property.
“There’s no longer an institution that owns this,” he said.