Stevens Point Journal - Joe Bachman - STEVENS POINT — Planning commission officials have moved forward on a conditional use permit to turn the former Lullaby Furniture site into the new “North Side Yard” mixed-use development.

Located at 1017 Third St., the multi-use commercial and residential development will be lofty venture. The project will have an estimated cost of $25 million taken on by the Iowa-based developers, Merge Urban Development Group, and Slingshot Architecture.

The design includes two mixed-use buildings, a multi-family building, and 11 townhomes. The planned site will include internal parking and a public courtyard. The completion of phase one, which includes buildings no. 2 and 3, will be completed by Spring of 2021, with the second phase to follow by the end of 2022.

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In total, the developers are looking at 210,329 sq. feet, to house 211 residential units. There will be 106 on-site parking stalls, not including 11 private garages. (117 total) The commercial portion of the development will be approximately 29,302 sq. feet.

“We’re really looking to make vibrant spaces in urban fabric,” said Slingshot Architect Dan Drendel. “…regardless of cultures and climates, people are the same in that they go gather together in the public if they have good places to do so.

Something we loved as we got to know your community a bit is just the already-rich urban infrastructure and green space; parks, complete trail system — for a community of your size it’s just really amazing and really beautiful.”

Parking is a concern posed by some within city government and the public, and in hopes to quell parking quarrels, Merge made the following statement in a letter to the city:

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“An underlying driver of all of our designs is building for people. In order to create a comfortable and safe place for people to live, work, and play – we creatively de-emphasize the car. Our site plan includes over 100 on-site parking stalls tucked into the interior of the site plan, and 23 street parking stalls. Underutilized lots surround the site and we are very supportive of district parking solutions and a revised on-street overnight strategy for residents.

Our plan might seem futuristic for Stevens Point, but it is very realistic for the pace of transportation innovation (ride-sharing services have recently become available in Stevens Point), the growing body of research on the negative impacts of driving on public health, and the availability of parking today in the 3rd Street area. It seems very short-sighted to add significant cost to construct more parking, sacrifice green space for parking, and/or reduce active residential and commercial space for a perceived need that is sure to diminish over time.”

A concern among many aside from parking is the notion that the future buildings could become a blighted area — fearing that the development would not be filled to maximum residency. These are concerns coming from many landlords in the region.

One person during the public hearing made a statement believing that most in their 20s and 30s want to own a home rather than take residence in an apartment or multi-family home in a development.

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The 2017 Stevens Point housing study, however, tells a different story. The study identified the needs for housing of all types due to expected and continued population growth in Portage County. This includes building new living quarters in the downtown area.

As Mayor Mike Wiza pointed out, not everyone wants the same thing, and pointed to a much bigger picture for the area.

“The housing that has been approved and that is up for consideration are very different — just like you and I live in different houses in different areas of town for different reasons,” said Wiza to the public. “…what might work for you might not work for someone else.”

Wiza commented that the pending building projects are very different; citing the student housing on the former K-Mart site, the fixed income housing on Arlington, the upcoming Water Street Lofts, the live-work spaces on the former Belke Lumber site, and the one up for current discussion.

“Bringing people into the area is going to create an environment to foster business. I get comments about ‘well we should put a Costco there, or a CVS, or an Olive Garden’ — but the fact is we don’t have enough people to support that in the downtown area,” said Wiza. “In the bigger picture, what we’re trying to do here is get people in the area, creating that customer base.

…we are strategically creating housing that has been asked for.”

The motion passed unanimously and will see a final approval at the next city council meeting.