The preliminary design for a new assisted living facility have been approved by the Holmen Planning Commission despite the concerns of the Holmen Area Fire Department chief.

The planning commission voted at its Nov. 28 meeting to approve the design for the Seven Bridges Care Center. Holmen Village Administrator Scott Heinig assured the commissioners the plans for the care center meet the requirements of zoning, siting, materials, lighting and signage. In approving the design, the commission was acting in its capacity as the village’s site plan and architectural review (SPAR) board.

The proposed single-story care center on Circle Drive in Holmen would provide 20 beds for seniors and others who could benefit from assisted care.

Holmen Fire Chief Paul Menches asked the planning commissioners and village staff permission to review proposed development plans before they are approved to ensure the fire department’s equipment would have full access to the structures. Menches said he was concerned that response vehicles should have 360-degree access to these types of facilities.

“We request to see the plans for a couple days before they are approved by the state,” said Menches. “We don’t get to see the plans; we would like to be in the loop.”

Heinig informed Menches that the process carried out by the commission doesn’t need to be approved by the state. He added that the village can’t legally require the developers to have the plans approved by the fire department. Review by the fire department also could delay plan approvals, Heinig noted.

“It would add an additional week to the planning,” said Heinig. “The downside is the review wouldn’t allow time to present the plans to the planning commission if modifications have to be made. The fire chief’s comments would only be advisory.”

Heinig said a fire department’s review could delay development projects for a month, which could disrupt the construction schedule regarding financing and building contracts. The SPAR board is only responsible for reviewing the architectural aesthetics of the building’s exterior and not safety issues related to the construction.

“I support the desire of the fire department to ensure public safety at all levels, so I have no issue with sharing our received materials with them,” said Heinig. “But due to the tight time restrictions on the applicant, if we share information with the fire department, which is not required of the applicant, that additional time must not impede the applicant’s legal time constraints.

He added, “Any requirement to have 360 degrees of paved vehicle access is simply not legally defensible, and it is not a provision the SPAR Board could even consider.”

Heinig also pointed out that none of the neighboring structures have 360 degree paved access.

“How now do we consider appropriate ways to involve someone else like the fire department when and where it makes sense to do so under our existing ordinance structure?” said Heinig. “That is something we’ll sincerely work to accomplish.”

The fire department has asked the three municipalities making up the Holmen Area Fire District Association Board to standardize their building codes to meet regulations set by the National Fire Protection Association and the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services. Along with the village of Holmen, the other two municipalities making up the district are the towns of Holland and Onalaska.

Landscaping and buffer yards ordinance

The planning commission also voted to recommend that the village board adopt an ordinance regulating landscaping and buffer yards in new development projects. Buffer yards are a type of landscaping installed to obstruct the view of adjacent property.

Heinig informed the commission that the village’s current requirements are ambiguous and haven’t been evenly implemented.

“Some investors would do a fine job on the proposal but when it came time to put in the proposed landscaping, I’ve found it’s not consistent with the plan,” said Heinig.

He found some developers cut corners by putting in smaller, less expensive trees in the landscaping than proposed in their plans.

“We need this ordinance in order for there to be more fairness and consistency,” said Heinig. “This would be the first time a comprehensive landscape ordinance is considered to fully support existing site plan development requirements. Some older development projects wouldn’t meet the ordinance requirements.”

The ordinance provides a formula through a points system based on the size of the building and parking areas to determine the scope of the materials and plantings for a site. A public hearing was held at the beginning of the meeting with no one from the public speaking for or against the ordinance.


Coulee Courier and Houston County News editor

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