Special to The Daily Reporter
There’s just something about city life. It attracts people. It attracts development. And, although Dane County recently lost support for a program that promotes urban infill projects, officials say the push for urban growth remains strong.
The county has green space into which it can grow, but there are financial advantages to nurturing infill development. It means utilizing existing municipal services such as street, water and sewer systems.
Redeveloping properties through urban infill also provides opportunities for local tax bases to expand without the developed area of the municipality expanding, said Heather Stouder, a planner with the city of Madison planning division.
Such growth is particularly important for a county with some of the most productive agricultural soil around, said Todd Violante, director of Dane County’s Department of Planning & Development.
“We’re trying to balance protecting our agricultural resources with some of the most intense development pressure in the state,” he said.
The recent hiatus of the Better Urban Infill Development Program, a countywide program that offers grants to promote urban development, is a blow to the county’s focus on urban infill but should not be a deterrent, said area planners.
The 10-year-old program has been indefinitely suspended until the state’s massive $6.6 billion budget hole and Dane County’s resulting drop in aid are remedied.
“BUILD is a good program, but I certainly wouldn’t expect to see infill development efforts abandoned in Dane County,” Violante said.
One community that benefitted from BUILD program money and the resulting infill development is Sun Prairie. In the last seven years, Sun Prairie has revitalized a 14-acre industrial area in its historic downtown.
It replaced abandoned factories in the Cannery Square area with mixed-use developments that encouraged further redevelopment, said Scott Kugler, director of planning for Sun Prairie.
“The city used BUILD funds to help prepare revitalization plans for the downtown and other projects,” he said. “It’s been very beneficial. We hope to see it continue.”
Even without BUILD grants, infill development will continue to be a large part of county planning, Stouder said.
“In most ways, urban infill is the most efficient use of land and is much more cost-efficient when it comes to the delivery of basic municipal services,” she said. “Basic urban services (streets, sidewalks, water, sewer) obviously entail significant capital costs up front, much of which can be passed along to the private sector.
But the ongoing maintenance costs are also quite significant for taxpayers as well.”
In the absence of BUILD grants, Dane County can continue to invest in infill development by using other grants and creating tax-incremental finance districts. Sun Prairie used TIF money in its downtown revitalization project, and Madison used it to redevelop University Square in the city’s downtown.
When done correctly, urban infill redevelopment can positively affect the quality of life for residents, Stouder said, yet another reason urban infill will continue to be a popular option in Dane County despite the existence of developable land along the county’s fringe.
Infill development lets communities realize projects that complement existing developed areas, Violante said.
“It can be more complicated and riskier to do infill development,” he said, “but the rewards are great to the developers and the community.”