By Neil Johnson - Jun 7, 2022



It took hours, but a massive strawberry greenhouse development proposed on the south side—along with a few smaller future industrial and housing developments—shifted closer to reality Monday night.

The Janesville Plan Commission debated for four hours during a set of three public hearings centered on a Milwaukee developer’s plan for a 1.57-million-square-foot hydroponic greenhouse that the developer said is phase one of a mixed-use development at the intersection of Highway 51 and Highway 11.
The commission unanimously OK’d changes to the city’s future land-use map in its comprehensive plan and approved zoning for the proposal pending an annexation request that goes to city council July 11. The commission also gave a thumbs-up to the creation of a tax increment financing district around the 175 acres, although the plan commission doesn’t review or have authority over financial aspects of TIF districts.

Commission members spent hours debating potential amendments to a future land-use plan that would satisfy the dozens of residents who wrote to the city and voiced their concerns in person Monday night.

Ultimately, the plan commission voted unanimously to recommend a land-use plan that would allow the development of a 65-acre, three-building greenhouse development on land MacFarlane Pheasants now uses to raise its birds.

But the commission tied amendments to that vote that would require the developer to scrap the idea of extending DuPont Drive south to Covey and Venture drives. Also, the plan commission decided, the project would have to include a 200-foot buffer of trees, bushes and other plantings to separate industrial portions of the land from existing homes to the north. That is 50 feet more than the city’s typical requirement for such easements.

That proposal, one of four alternatives to extend city streets and connect the neighborhood around the proposed development, was the one least popular with residents, some who said Monday night that they’re worried about traffic overflow.

A traffic analysis the city’s traffic consultant provided Monday showed that an industrial development like the kind Three Leaf Partners of Milwaukee plans would generate a “medium” amount of traffic—about half the traffic volume an hour that a typical grocery store would generate.

In all, more than 80 residents sounded off in letters to the city. Some of the 13 residents who spoke, most of whom live in the nearby Quail Ridge subdivision, said they’re concerned about overflow traffic if the main street in their subdivision got connected to Center Avenue/Highway 51.

State statute requires developments that would alter how land is used to get such changes approved in a city’s future land-use plans. Three Leaf seeks to increase acreage intended for industrial use on the land in question, and the group also seeks to increase by 30 acres the amount of land to the north of the planned industry that would be dedicated to multifamily housing.

Some of residents who spoke Monday said they also weren’t enamored with the idea of multifamily “affordable” housing being developed on 30 acres just west of Quail Ridge. Three Leaf is an affordable housing developer, but the company does not yet have a formal plan to build housing north of the greenhouse operation.

Monday’s votes only provided a framework for how Three Leaf would be allowed to move forward with a mixed-use development. It does not provide authorization for Three Leaf to move forward on its plans.

Specific project plans and land-use plans must be OK’d by the plan commission for the project to move forward.

Three Leaf is seeking to close on a 175-acre swath of land on the south side that includes an expansive, 145-acre portion of MacFarlane Pheasants’ operation along with farmland owned by the MacFarlane family to the north that Three Leaf envisions for apartments and single-family homes.

Three Leaf officials say the greenhouse would have two massive main grow buildings that combined would cover 1.57 million square feet, but the buildings would have a height of 20 to 25 feet, which would allow the development to eventually be screened by trees.

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