Neighborhood plans go to CARPC over crowd objections

Commission will consider Northeast, North Stoner Prairie proposals
By: 
Scott Girard

Renderings courtesy City of Fitchburg. The map above shows where the proposed Northeast Neighborhood.

The proposed North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood addition to Fitchburg's Urban Service Area.

Over objections by dozens of citizens, the city is sending plans to grow to the east and west to a regional planning commisssion.

Fitchburg’s Common Council voted Tuesday, Feb. 25, to send the Northeast and North Stoner Prairie neighborhood plans to the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission, which advises the state on extensions of sewer service, an important component for most forms of urban development.

The requests for amending the city's urban service area to both sides inspired nearly three hours of public comment and council debate. The council passed the measure, which sent both neighborhood plans to CARPC together, on a 6-2 vote, with Alds. Steve Arnold (D-4) and Dorothy Krause (D-1) voting against.

Krause said she would have voted for sending one of the plans to CARPC and not the other, but since they were motioned and voted on together, she voted against. Arnold had attempted to separate the items earlier in the meeting, but that failed on a voice vote.

A USA is the area within which a municipality can provide a set of services including sewer service, and CARPC and the state Department of Natural Resources are involved in the process of approving extensions to that service. CARPC had been essentially the final word until a lawsuit clarified that its decisions are only advisory to the DNR. Its decisions have often been highly political.

The proposals would add 924 acres of land between U.S. Hwy. 14 to Fitchburg’s eastern city limits and 327 acres of land near Seminole Hwy. and Lacy Road to the USA. Both areas were included in the city's comprehensive plan, published in 2009 and amended to include the Northeast Neighborhood in 2010, and the city has been working on the Northeast area since 2005. The highway was recently rebuilt and the offramp at Lacy Road upgraded.

Prior to the council’s debate, 17 citizens spoke on the motion, with nine against at least one of the proposals and much of the criticism focusing on the Northeast Neighborhood plan, especially due to its proximity to the Waubesa Wetlands. Sixty-eight additional people registered against the proposal but did not speak. Eight others registered in support.

“I really do think that some things are worth protecting and not developing … it’s not just impacts on water or quality of life or traffic,” said Scott Sauer, who lives in Madison and is a volunteer at the wetlands. “We also have the pressure people put on a resource in a very subtle way.”

The opposition included a petition signed by 625 people, and some of those opposed accused the council of ignoring the petitioners and their constiuents.

Multiple council members responded by saying that while they value constituent input and try to follow their constituents’ wishes, those wishes were based on questionable facts in this case.

“We have some kind of undercurrent that is feeding information like my taxes are going to go up,” said Ald. Becky Baumbach (D-4), pointing to an explanation given by public works director Paul Woodard earlier in the meeting.

Woodard explained that any developer will have to cover the cost of building new roads or sewer services to support their development, meaning taxpayers would not have to pay for such work. The city would, however, have to cover upkeep of those systems once they were built.

Other citizens questioned whether the city needed more land to develop when some land already in the USA is only partially developed, and worried that having too much open land would hurt the market.

City economic development director Mike Zimmerman said more land offers potential developers more options for bringing their business to Fitchburg and would also allow current Fitchburg businesses that want to expand to have that option.

One of those current Fitchburg businesses is Sub Zero, which had a representative on hand Tuesday night who told the council that without the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood being brought into the USA, the company would likely have to look elsewhere to expand, as it has already surpassed what it can provide in its current space.

Arnold also expressed concern about fire and emergency service response times to the Northeast Neighborhood, with no fire station in the area. The city has plans to build one in the near future, but that is not likely to happen until 2016 at the earliest, Woodard told the council.

However, many of the alders voting in favor of the decision pointed out that sending the plans to CARPC does not mean development is imminent in these areas, and that any future development proposed would have to come back in front of the council, anyway, so the fire station problem may not become an issue.

Even if developers do come to the area prior to construction of a new fire station, Ald. Jason Gonzales (D-3) maintained that the cooperative agreements Fitchburg has with surrounding municipalities for emergency services would keep the area safe.

CARPC will now consider each neighborhood separately in coming months. Its agendas are published online at capitalarearpc.org.

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