Rural housing plan seeks to conserve agricultural feel
You'd think the fastest growing county in Wisconsin has seen it all when it comes to housing.
But an unusual proposal for a new 140-acre, 77-unit housing development in Hammond township is inching its way through the necessary approval process in St. Croix County and it has more than a few people doing a double take.
Rolling Hills Farm, which would be located at the intersection of County Road J and 160th Street if approved, is the first proposal under the county's new conservation design regulations.
The relatively new type of housing development allows for a concentrated cluster or clusters of houses on a large piece of real estate, with the remaining land being conserved for use by all residents. It replaces the traditional lay-out for rural housing developments that carve up the land in individual chunks of land.
"I think it's a good use for the land," said Dave Peters, one of the land's developers. "We want to maintain an agricultural sense of the property, and it's going to have more of a community feel."
Conservation design has been growing in popularity in the Twin Cities area for the past 10 years. Jackson Meadow in Marine on St. Croix, Fields of St. Croix in Lake Elmo and Inspiration in Bayport are all examples of successful conservation design projects close by.
According to the preliminary plans, Rolling Hills will include many of the amenities that make conservation design popular.
The development site will include two miles of eight-foot trails for resident use, a neighborhood park, a wetland overlook and native prairie grasses.
Homes will also be grouped tightly together, offering a stronger traditional neighborhood feel, Peters noted.
The homes will be outfitted with environmentally-friendly aerobic septic systems, and each home will share a well with one other home.
"There are fewer borings into the aquifer," Peters said about the shared wells. "It's all much better for the environment. We think it's the way to go."
Peters said the developer, Rolling Hills of Hammond, LLC, hopes to gain county approval for its concept in the coming weeks so lots begin selling soon. The company plans to place a showroom on the development site once it gets the necessary approval, which is expected to occur without too much trouble.
"The county has been on board all along," Peters said of the cooperation the developers have received from local officials. "They're real excited about it."
By the end of July, Peters said they'd like to begin moving dirt and complete the road system.
If all goes well, Peters said the developers plan a second phase on a 100-acre parcel across the road. That land has the Kinnickinnic River running through it.
Kim Chapman, Ph.D., with Applied Ecological Services, Inc., helped design the Rolling Hills Farm housing development. He spoke to the St. Croix County Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday night concerning conservation design issues.
All of the elements of the project work toward protecting the environment, Chapman said.
Among the special design elements is an ecological storm water management system that helps to reduce sediment and phosphorus washing into the river.
Developers also plan to protect an existing wetland, and create a new wetland, as part of the project. A savannah remnant and native prairie remnant on the land also are slated for protection.
Where once conservation design was a rare design option, Chapman said its popularity is picking up.
Developers can save money by limiting the length of streets, curb and gutter they need to install, and other development costs are kept to a minimum.
Just last week, Chapman attended a conference in Bloomington, Minn. devoted to the conservation design idea. More than 350 people were in attendance.
"I think the number of such developments have really picked up since the late 1990s," he said. "There's a track record and it's been proven to work. It's becoming more well known and people are jumping in."
Chapman said his company has helped about 25 developers nationwide design ecologically-sensitive housing projects.