Plans for an affordable housing development were dropped last week after several residents from the neighborhood raised objections to the proposal during a meeting of the Grand Marais Planning Commission.
Richard DeWitt, of Dewitt Churchill LLC was requesting a conditional use permit to construct eight single-family two and three bedroom rental units on a narrow parcel of land fronting Highway 61 in west Grand Marais, but more than a dozen nearby property owners came to the Grand Marais Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, August 4th to voice their opposition to the proposal. Cathi Williams was one of them:
“I just want to say that when I heard how small the lot was, I just can’t imagine putting that many units on one small spot. It spells nothing but trouble. To me, it doesn’t fit that area. It’s just too much congestion. I think affordable housing is important, but affordable housing doesn't mean you have to have one house. And I think we need to look at affordable housing in other areas: quad homes and apartment buildings.”
The property, at 210 West 1st Street, measures 100’ wide by 942’ deep and runs perpendicular to Highway 61 in west Grand Marais. Aaron Mielke owns property nearby. He also spoke against the development.
“I’m all for having affordable housing in the right spot. We have a nice mix of residential and some commercial in there. I feel this sort of development in there would really take away from the feel of the neighborhood. This is not the right spot.”
DeWitt, a developer and part-time resident of Grand Marais, said the idea to put affordable rental units on the property had been suggested to him by Matt Geretschlaeger, director of the Cook County – Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority (EDA).
“What I was told, and I believe, that Grand Marais is desperate for quality, long term rental. I didn’t come into the city hall in fact, to ask to do this at all. It was brought to my attention that it might be a really good idea. And so I went ahead with it. I didn’t come in and say, ‘gee, I’ve got this piece of land back here, I can’t wait to put eight homes on it in this economy.’ I was asked would I even consider it and I said I certainly would.”
DeWitt was very receptive to the comments of the residents during the meeting, saying he appreciated them, and in the end, he withdrew the proposal.
“I request it’s withdrawn. Wish I wouldn’t have wasted my money, but that’s the way it goes. I’m not your enemy. I was asked to do this. I didn’t come up with this.”
EDA Director Matt Geretschlaeger was unavailable for comment about the DeWitt proposal. Geretschlaeger is currently working reduced hours for the cash-strapped agency, and recently announced his intention to resign his position as director of the EDA at the end of the year.