Local leaders like the idea a developer has for more than 700 acres between Middleton and Westport, but worry about the strain the growth could mean for their communities.
â€œWeâ€™re still very early in negotiations,â€ said Westport Town Chairman John Van Dinter. â€œThere will be more concerns raised when this gets to a public hearing level, whether itâ€™s about density or traffic.â€
Nevertheless, the Middleton/Westport Joint Zoning Committee on Wednesday night approved Madison developer Terrence Wallâ€™s conceptual plan, which calls for a 240-acre agricultural community, town center, man-made lake and clusters of home developments, among other amenities.
â€œItâ€™s really just an OK to proceed with planning,â€ said Sean Robbins, senior vice president of development for T. Wall Properties. â€œWeâ€™ll probably still be in the process of annexations and approvals for the next 12 to 24 months.â€
Itâ€™s still too early to talk about project estimates or whether the company might seek tax-incremental financing, Robbins said. Even after plans are complete, the full-fledged development, to be called Bishops Bay, could take 20 to 30 years to finish.
â€œWeâ€™re talking about lots of different product types for multiple phases,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a very large master plan and, ultimately, will be a really special project for a key growth corridor in Dane County.â€
Pending necessary approvals, the development will eventually unfold on Lake Mendotaâ€™s north side, west of Governor Nelson State Park. Robbins said 40 percent of the property, which is now predominantly rural land, would remain open space to maintain a rural feel.
Thatâ€™s a good thing, said Van Dinter, who said Westport was initially concerned with density issues the project might pose.
â€œWeâ€™re not a city like Middleton,â€ he said. â€œWe like a rural character and want to be able to keep that, and, to their credit, the (T. Wall representatives) weâ€™ve talked to are willing to help us achieve that.â€
But Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag said growth could pose a traffic challenge for city.
â€œTheyâ€™re saying there will eventually be 6,000 people that will be part of Bishops Bay,â€ he said. â€œWell, if thatâ€™s the case, traffic becomes a big deal.â€
The cityâ€™s increasing traffic counts already prompted calls for expediting the North Mendota Parkway project, but Sonnentag said Bishops Bay would feed right into Century Avenue and Allen Boulevard, both of which might need expansion, but only one of which can be expanded.
â€œAs far as Century Avenue goes, thereâ€™s really no extra room to take, because it runs right up to peopleâ€™s front yards,â€ he said. â€œSo now we have to deal with the fact that itâ€™s too narrow. Now it only affects us at high-traffic commuting times, but 6,000 more people could create a bigger issue.â€
The city is working on an alternate road project to feed traffic from the Bishops Bay area to Madisonâ€™s Beltline Highway in the form of expanding Belle Fontaine Boulevard, but Sonnentag said that could take another 20 years to complete.
â€œThe fact that (Bishops Bay) is a 20- or 30-year thing is nice, because it gives us some time,â€ he said. â€œBut we need to get going on planning right now.â€
Van Dinter also said Westportâ€™s storm-water regulations are very strict — calling for zero percent runoff in a heavy storm situation — and T. Wall will have no choice but to comply with the regulation if it wants to proceed with the development.
â€œGone are the days of putting in a big pipe and dumping the water off on someone elseâ€™s property,â€ Van Dinter said.
Robbins said the municipalitiesâ€™ concerns will be dealt with as planning continues over the next year, and the company is not worried about density, traffic or storm-water issues.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t say that Iâ€™ve seen any major stumbling blocks to this point,â€ he said.