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Plans proceed for Riverwood Eagle’s Nest seniors development in Dells

November 15, 2016

Plans for a long-awaited senior housing project for Wisconsin Dells are beginning to take shape almost a year after the project’s unveiling.

The Riverwood Eagle’s Nest senior housing development received a recommendation for a Planned Development District (PPD) designation Monday night from the city’s Plan Commission during its monthly meeting at the Dells Municipal Building.

The PPD designation -- which will face an approval vote Monday night by the Dells Common Council at its monthly meeting -- means the project can proceed to its detailed planning and design phase, as long as several contingencies are met.

The PPD was necessary, according to Dells City Planner and Zoning Administrator Chris Tollaksen, because of the development’s numerous planned residential and commercial uses -- which will include a full range of living options for people 55 and older, from duplex apartments to assisted living and “memory care” facilities.

“There’s really no district (in the Dells) where you can have that mix of residential and commercial uses, so they needed the PPD for that, primarily,” Tollaksen said Monday night following the meeting.

The multi-dimensional, senior-living development -- whose ownership team includes former Gov. Tommy Thompson and former state Majority Leader Mary Panzer, the latter of whom was in attendance at the Plan Commission meeting Monday -- is planned for a 36-acre, heavily wooded site along the eastern banks of the Wisconsin River south of downtown off Bowman Road.

According to Panzer during comments before the commission -- as well as the conceptual plans she brought to display during Monday night’s meeting -- the first phase of the ambitious project will consist of 26 independent living duplex apartments, 30 assisted living and 12 memory care units, a three-story, 38-apartment “moderate-income” building and a “Commons Area.”

Groundbreaking for “Phase 1” could take place as early as this spring, Panzer told the Dells Events earlier Monday.

The development will be designed to make the most of -- and have the least possible impact upon -- the surrounding, largely unspoiled natural area, Panzer emphasized Monday, echoing comments she and Thompson made during a well-attended unveiling of the proposed project last December at Kilbourn Public Library.

The community will be managed by Grace Lutheran Communities, a 55-year-old, Eau Claire-based company that manages assisted living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation and independent living facilities in several western Wisconsin communities.

Panzer introduced Grace Lutheran Chief Executive Officer Michael Christensen at the meeting as well as Chris Hau of Milwaukee-based Quorum Architects, one of three architectural firms involved in the project.

Numerous planning and construction challenges remain for the project, notable among them increased access for emergency vehicles across the railroad tracks that stretch across Bowman Road just north of the planned complex, according to the lengthy report Tollaksen prepared for the commission.

Possible solutions mentioned in the report include a bridge over the railroad or access to the Grand Cambrian railroad tunnel nearby.

“An off-grade crossing that can accommodate an ambulance is a minimum requirement of this project,” Tollaksen wrote. “Options discussed have been constructing a bridge at the Bowman Road crossing to provide permanent off-grade vehicle access to the site, enhancing the (Riverwood Eagles Nest project’s) proposed pedestrian crossing to the northwest so it can accommodate an ambulance or establishing an emergency vehicle access to Bowman Road from the Grand Cambrian railroad tunnel that exists approximately one-half mile southeast of the Bowman Road railroad crossing.”

The project -- named for the two bald eagles’ nests situated high atop two pine trees on the property grounds -- was unveiled amid much fanfare last December and remains of high interest to the city, both because of its possibility for much-needed housing for senior citizens in the Dells as well as its potentially positive implications for a downtown area in the midst of a revitalization effort.

Panzer described efforts planned to preserve the numerous “old-growth” white pine trees on the property, a forest of which will serve as a wind buffer between the planned affordable housing building and the assisted care-memory care facility.

A multi-use trail, connecting the development’s “campus” both to the north toward downtown and south to the riverside and wood areas beyond, also is planned and was visible within the plan displayed Monday evening.