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Slow growth in works on Lake Mendota’s north side

Paul Snyder
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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.

“We’re still very early in negotiations,” said Westport Town Chairman John Van Dinter. “There will be more concerns raised when this gets to a public hearing level, whether it’s about density or traffic.”

Nevertheless, the Middleton/Westport Joint Zoning Committee on Wednesday night approved Madison developer Terrence Wall’s conceptual plan, which calls for a 240-acre agricultural community, town center, man-made lake and clusters of home developments, among other amenities.

“It’s really just an OK to proceed with planning,” said Sean Robbins, senior vice president of development for T. Wall Properties. “We’ll probably still be in the process of annexations and approvals for the next 12 to 24 months.”

It’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.

“We’re talking about lots of different product types for multiple phases,” he said. “It’s a very large master plan and, ultimately, will be a really special project for a key growth corridor in Dane County.”

Pending necessary approvals, the development will eventually unfold on Lake Mendota’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.

That’s a good thing, said Van Dinter, who said Westport was initially concerned with density issues the project might pose.

“We’re not a city like Middleton,” he said. “We like a rural character and want to be able to keep that, and, to their credit, the (T. Wall representatives) we’ve talked to are willing to help us achieve that.”

But Middleton Mayor Kurt Sonnentag said growth could pose a traffic challenge for city.

“They’re saying there will eventually be 6,000 people that will be part of Bishops Bay,” he said. “Well, if that’s the case, traffic becomes a big deal.”

The city’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.

“As far as Century Avenue goes, there’s really no extra room to take, because it runs right up to people’s front yards,” he said. “So now we have to deal with the fact that it’s too narrow. Now it only affects us at high-traffic commuting times, but 6,000 more people could create a bigger issue.”

The city is working on an alternate road project to feed traffic from the Bishops Bay area to Madison’s Beltline Highway in the form of expanding Belle Fontaine Boulevard, but Sonnentag said that could take another 20 years to complete.

“The fact that (Bishops Bay) is a 20- or 30-year thing is nice, because it gives us some time,” he said. “But we need to get going on planning right now.”

Van Dinter also said Westport’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.

“Gone are the days of putting in a big pipe and dumping the water off on someone else’s property,” Van Dinter said.

Robbins said the municipalities’ 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.

“I wouldn’t say that I’ve seen any major stumbling blocks to this point,” he said.

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