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Verona watches its town land disappear

Chuck Elliott is past the point of impatience.
Almost three years ago, the vice president of Middleton-based Elliott Construction Inc. first pitched a plan to the town of Verona for a 43-acre subdivision of affordable housing. He’s still waiting for a solid answer.
“It’s just chasing my tail at this point,” he said. “It’s a never-ending process. I don’t know who I’m dealing with or even if it can be affordable housing anymore.”
The first problem, Elliott said, was that the town referred the project to the city of Verona.
“Well, now you’re going to a group with a different set of rules,” he said. “So they say, ‘Here, this is what you can do. Take this back to the town.’ You go back to the town, and now there have been code changes there.”
Complicating matters further, the proposed development is just one mile from Fitchburg’s city limits, and as its closer to Fitchburg than it is to the city of Verona, Elliott also had to talk to Fitchburg. And then there’s Dane County, which referred him back to Fitchburg and Verona for their opinions, before asking him to report back.
“Everybody’s got a say,” he said, “but no one’s saying, ‘Go ahead.’”
Things just might get easier for Elliott soon, though.
The town and city of Verona will vote on Dec. 4 on a proposal to put out a referendum asking residents to decide whether the two entities will merge.
“I think it’s good for Verona,” said Town Chief Dave Combs. “We’ve been in discussions for about three years whether or not to go forward with this. In that time, the city, Madison and Fitchburg have all been annexing town land for their own developments.”
Combs said the town’s own Smart Growth plan has been rendered useless by the annexations.
“We’ve pulled one or two permits for new houses in the last year,” he said. “Everything else developed from land that was annexed. We’re stuck maintaining roads and services, the town’s not getting any revenue and the taxpayers here are struggling.
“Land values are skyrocketing, but they’re not able to do anything with it unless they annex the land.”
Combs said merging the two entities would add about $1.60 to the tax levy of each individual town resident, but at this point, no one seems to mind.
“It’s not deterred them from saying, ‘Keep looking at this,’” he said. “They might have to pay that added $1.60 soon anyway.”
Elliott said that since he’s still tied up in talks with Fitchburg and Dane County, he’s not sure if the merger will help his planned subdivision, but he said he thinks it’ll curb future headaches.
“I think it’s good both for the city and the town, and I think it’s going to make things on developers a lot easier,” he said. “Hopefully, you’d just have to deal with the one entity and get on with it. Plus the town isn’t going to have to continue to see itself being gobbled up by Madison and Fitchburg.”
Combs said it’d be nice to see headaches end at all levels.
“Even with the simplest projects, you can see how things go into a bottleneck,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of expense into the merger in terms of research, legal studies, so on and so forth.
“The attitude toward it is positive, though. Something needs to be done.”

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