Liberty Grove Leads Push for Affordable Housing

After many affordable-housing proposals have foundered, the Town of Liberty Grove appears to be making a serious push to tackle the issue. The township signed a memorandum of understanding with the Door County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) to consult on developing affordable housing.

The DCEDC is expected to release the results of its yearlong housing-stock study, but the general findings will be of little surprise to anyone.

“When the housing study comes out, it’s going to show we have huge need for affordable and attainable housing,” said Jim Schuessler, executive director of the DCEDC.

During the past three years, the Town of Liberty Grove has revamped its 20-year comprehensive plan. That process revealed a common theme:

“Economic development, intergovernmental cooperation, land use, transportation, everything came back to the fact that one of the things that we as a town need to focus on was affordable housing,” said town board member Lou Covotsos. “That struck a real chord with DCEDC, and that is a priority of theirs.”

Although the details of a project have yet to be decided, the town is actively looking at properties that would be suitable for such a development. The town already owns one of those properties: approximately 20 acres next to the town hall.

Covotsos said the town board is acutely aware of the inevitable complaints from nearby residents who don’t want such a development in their backyard. He said the lot is relatively isolated, as are the other properties the town has in mind.

But Liberty Grove faces another hurdle in the realm of public opinion. The geographically widespread township – reaching from the Washington Island Ferry at Northport to just outside of Ephraim – may have residents in one region questioning why their tax dollars are going to support development that may not directly affect them.

“It all has to do with economic development,” said Covotsos. “In order to maintain the businesses and taxpaying base we have in Liberty Grove, we need to have employees and affordable housing. [They are] the keys to maintaining any kind of employee base.”

Although the town may initially own the piece of property for the development, Covotsos said it would not operate as a landlord. Instead, the town would likely structure a public-private partnership with a developer after consultation with the DCEDC.

“Without the collaboration of DCEDC, we would be hesitant,” Covotsos said. “But DCEDC is there to make sure that if we get close enough to purchase, and we get the approval to purchase, that development along the lines of affordable housing would happen almost seamlessly.”

“I hope all of our communities will be as engaged in the housing conversation as Liberty Grove is,” Schuessler said.

Due to the town’s structure as a township, electors would need to approve any property acquisition. Covotsos said the town may go to electors for approval on a new parcel as early as Memorial Day.