Last year, Jon Wilbeck’s neighbor to the north was soybeans.
The year before it was corn.
Farm crops are the kind of neighbor Wilbeck expects and enjoys having next to his acreage home west of Lincoln.
But a Lincoln developer has plans for a housing development, starting with 162 homes on about 48 acres, adjacent to Wilbeck and his neighbors in the Gailyn Circle neighborhood.
And Wilbeck could be staring into the backyards of seven houses from his place on Southwest Ninth Street.
The proposed development, with no transition from acreage to city housing, will destroy the privacy, hurt the quality of life and reduce the value of their homes, Wilbeck and his neighbors told the Lincoln City Council this month.
“When I go out to my back deck after work or do yard work in my back or side yard, there will be seven sets of windows looking out at me to see what I’m up to,” he said.
But Lincoln builder Bob Benes told the council the city is in the midst of “the most incredible housing crisis since the 1940s,” and needs new homes.
“There are less than 600 homes on the market now. Back in the peak we probably had 2,400 homes on the market at one time," he said during a public hearing on plans for the Folsom Heights housing development near South Folsom Street and West Denton Road.
The council is expected to vote on issues related to the development at its Feb. 27 meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m.
“It is really important that we open up new areas,” said Benes, who told the council there were tentative plans to eventually build more than 1,000 homes -- almost up to the YMCA Wright Park fields. And there is discussion of a new elementary school.
It’s a great location, said Benes, just five to 10 minutes from downtown.
The developers are taking an "incredible leap of faith" across U.S. 77, he said.
Planning and infrastructure-wise, this area is ready for development, the council was told.
It was brought into the city limits 12 years ago when Wal-Mart told the city it was considering building a super center near U.S. 77 and West Denton Road.
The city annexed and rezoned. The city and the developer put in roads, made plans for sewers, and then Wal-Mart pulled out. Soon after, the stock market crashed, the housing market collapsed, and few new homes were built.
Now the city is looking at potential growth in that area, and the proposed housing development will use a temporary sewer lift station installed in anticipation of the Wal-Mart and related development.
Part of the area is zoned for commercial, but “we need residential roofs to get commercial out there,” said Dave Cary, planning director.
The acreage owners, many of whom bought their homes after the Wal-Mart deal fell through, knew they were just outside the city limits and there was business zoning to the east and residential zoning to the north.
But they are on a gravel road and far enough outside the built area of the city that they didn’t imagine 1,000 homes just to their north.
They asked the council for better studies on water drainage issues, on traffic, on property values, and they requested some transition between the new housing and their homes.
The acreage owners want the city to require the developer to preserve their way of life by creating a logical transition zone from the high-density development to the rural acreages, said Michael Sullivan, an acreage owner.
In Benes' view, the changes that will come from the housing development aren't necessarily bad.
He pointed to the benefits of nearby growth including closer amenities like grocery stores and closer schools.
The City Council has minimal discretion in the decision, Rick Peo, chief assistant city attorney told its members. As long as the developer complies with the basic rules, the city ordinance says the council “shall” approve the preliminary plat, he said.
“I would say they (developers) do comply and have met the requirements of the preliminary plat.
"In a lot of ways your reasonable discretion is taken away,” he said.
Councilman Roy Christensen asked both the builder and acreage owners a philosophical question: At what point do you think the developer's rights to do with his property what is lawful and legal, can be overridden by acreage owner concerns?
"There is not good answer for that, unless we can meet on this and try to work something out,” said Wilbeck.
"The developer hasn’t reached out to me since the Planning Commission meeting to work something out."
Benes pointed out that he is a farmer and has lived on acreages.
"I also realize that growth happens and you are going to run into these issues,” he said. "In order for us to grow, we have to do this."
The development company, Southwest Folsom Development LLC, lists Lincoln developer Tom White as its agent.
The Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission approved the development's preliminary plan and zoning change and neighbors appealed that decision to the city.
The developer is seeking to down-zone part of the area -- from apartments to single-family homes and is seeking approval of a preliminary plat, which includes several waivers, such as eliminating an internal sidewalk.