Apartments for J-1 Workers Proposed in Sturgeon Bay

A single-family dwelling at 114 N. 7th Ave. in Sturgeon Bay – the former site of a bed-and-breakfast – could be converted into apartments for J-1 visa student workers.

The city’s Plan Commission on Dec. 21 conducted a conceptual review of the Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the project initiated by Jurgita and David Kana, who want to convert the building into four one-bedroom apartment units. They plan to live in one of them and rent the other three.

Community development director Marty Olejniczak said the property is currently zoned R-2 (Single-Family Residential), where multi-family dwellings are not permitted, and rezoning the site to R-4 (Multi-Family Residential) would not be conducive to the surrounding neighborhood and the additional potential uses allowed with R-4 zoning.

“The Planned Unit Development – PUD for short – is a special type of zoning district that the city often uses for either projects that often don’t neatly fit into any of the other zoning categories, or sometimes it’s for larger areas that have a mixing of uses and mixing of densities,” he said.

Olejniczak said the site has 27,009 square feet, with a dwelling of about 5,000 square feet, a detached garage and a shed, making it “a large house on a large lot that’s mostly wooded.” 

Because Jurgita and David Kana, former J-1 visa student workers themselves, were back in Europe for the holidays, the commission heard from the project’s builder, Paul LeClair.

“What they had been doing, as they were J-1 students, is living in basements, living in garages, like a lot of J-1s are doing,” he said. “What they’re hoping to do is to get this into a four-apartment complex for J-1 students while also living in the same building.”

LeClair said each apartment would have its own entrance with its own kitchen, living room and a washer and dryer.

Because a PUD is being sought for the project, District 2 Alder Dennis Statz said restrictions could be included so that it couldn’t become a short-term rental.

LeClair said Jurgita and David Kana are looking to rent out the apartments on a yearly basis.

“The initial building will stay the same [for the most part on the exterior],” he said. “Just the interior will be gutted and basically moved to where it would make more sense to run plumbing and try to keep the costs down. There probably will be a small amount of exterior work. I believe we need one more exit on one of the upper floors.”

Olejniczak said splitting the parcel could also be restricted with the project approved as a PUD.

District 7 Alder Kirsten Reeths, who lives in the neighborhood and represents the area where the proposed apartment project is located, praised the Kanas for cleaning up the lot since they purchased it in 2021.

Reeths said there is a need for J-1 worker housing.

“I think that’s something that obviously is looked at throughout Door County itself, and I’m glad that it’s here in Sturgeon Bay,” she said.

With the neighborhood already having short-term rentals, two-story rental apartments and single-family homes, Reeths said apartments for J-1 workers would fit within the neighborhood.

LeClair said the project timeline calls for finishing at least two of the apartments by next summer.

To expedite the project, the commission backed a motion to hold a public hearing on the PUD during its January meeting, when a unanimous vote could forward the project to the Sturgeon Bay Common Council for consideration.