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County pushes communities to collaborate

Paul Snyder
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The city of Verona is calling on Dane County to back off its request for the city to collaborate with the town of Verona and Fitchburg on an intergovernmental development plan.

“It’s premature and a bit intrusive for the county to ask for this,” said Verona City Administrator Shawn Murphy. “Is there something driving this? Because if there’s some conflict out there, we’re certainly willing to sit down and talk about it, but we can’t tell what that might be.”

Dane County’s Zoning and Land Regulation Committee was scheduled Tuesday night to vote on a resolution mandating the three municipalities come up with an intergovernmental agreement on developing plats of land that cross the communities’ borders. The Dane County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the resolution next week.But the city of Verona already is looking at some of that land as it crafts its own state-mandated comprehensive plan, which Murphy said is likely to be adopted in July. Verona Mayor Jon Hochkammer sent a letter Friday to the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee requesting the opportunity to let the city finish its plan before collaboration talks begin.

County Supervisor John Hendrick, a member of the Zoning and Land Regulation Committee, said the committee wants the municipalities to get together based on tentative plans for a 40-acre housing development near Grandview and Fitchrona roads at the Fitchburg-Verona town border.

“But we’re not putting any deadlines on it,” Hendrick said. “Certainly the housing market is cool right now, and I don’t think a couple months’ delay would be a big deal.”

But the slow housing market does make timing an issue, said attorney Ron Trachtenberg, who represents housing project developer Chuck Elliott.

“Would we like to go faster?” Trachtenberg asked. “Yes. (Elliott) bought the property at a very pretty price, and as we continue to wait and see increases in the cost of housing, it only demands building more costly housing to foot the bill.”

Elliott, vice president of Middleton-based Elliott Construction Inc., first pitched a plan for the subdivision in 2004, but changing borders and consolidation questions between the municipalities continued to delay the project.

Hendrick said he did not know how long the county will wait for discussions to begin.

The state deadline for local comprehensive plans is Jan. 1, 2010. Thomas Hovel, Fitchburg city planner and zoning administrator, said the city will hold a public hearing and possible vote on its plan March 24.

But with several Common Council seats and the mayor’s office up for election in April, Hovel said any decision to defer action at the March 24 meeting might yield political delays.

“Sometimes plans change if changeover occurs,” he said.

Hovel said if the county wants immediate talks to occur among the municipalities, Fitchburg likely would participate.

The town of Verona wants to get to the table as soon as possible, said Town Chairman Dave Combs.

“We’re caught in a situation where most of our land is either under (city of Verona) or Fitchburg jurisdiction,” he said. “And the county’s been no help at all to the town in terms of trying to determine what kind of development might appear in the future. We’d like to give our property owners some idea as soon as possible.”

Town of Verona voters last year overwhelmingly voted down a proposal to consolidate the town and city of Verona, and Combs said confusion about the three municipalities’ borders and comprehensive plans has deterred development and left town residents in the dark about further development in the area.

“It’d be nice to have a vision,” he said, “instead of reacting all the time.”

But Murphy said the city needs to define its own vision first.

“Verona and Fitchburg are working on their own plans,” he said, “and neither is finished yet.”

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