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Lawsuit could doom regional planning commission

By Paul Snyder

Development fights killed one Dane County regional planning group, and the village of Mazomanie is sharpening the blade for another’s execution.

“They’ve got to learn to work with us,” Lowell Holcomb, Mazomanie’s village president, said of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission. “They just have to. They’ve just slammed the door in our face and thumbed their nose at us.

“Well, we decided to take a more radical, legal stand.”

Mazomanie is suing the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, not the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission, but a CARPC decision is at the core of the debate, and the lawsuit is a wake-up call, said Jeff Miller, CARPC chairman.

“We have a fractured regional planning commission,” he said. “We have cities and villages that want growth and others that don’t. That kind of divide killed the county’s last regional planning commission, and we’re marching down the same road.”

The lawsuit stems from a 200-acre, mixed-use development in Mazomanie that was first proposed in 2007 by Cross Plains-based developer Janice Faga.

CARPC rejected the development, citing concerns that the project’s proximity to Black Earth Creek could lead to water-quality issues during construction.

But the DNR told the commission it did not provide sufficient reasoning for the rejection. So the commission reviewed the plans again last year in more detail and again rejected the proposal.

When Mazomanie sought a DNR review of the second rejection, Todd Ambs, DNR division of water administrator, sent a letter deferring to CARPC’s ruling because the commission provided more analysis in its second review.

“I think someone prompted (DNR) not to review it,” Holcomb said. “At first they were so open-minded and then, bang, nothing. No reasoning whatsoever.”

Ambs was unavailable for comment.

CARPC has started discussing its legal strategy for the lawsuit, but, Miller said, the commission is an agent of the DNR and needs better leadership.

“They need to send us a much clearer message as to what we can and can’t make judgments on,” he said. “I voted for the Mazomanie project believing we were in line.”

The state formed CARPC to help enforce the DNR’s water-quality protection rules, but, Miller said, commissioners find themselves debating issues, such as farmland preservation and available housing stock, that are not related to the rules.

“Which leads you right back to the problem that’s always existed in Dane County,” he said. “That’s the clash of strong environmental groups and those that are pro-growth.”

Those clashes led former Gov. Scott McCallum in 2002 to terminate the Dane County Regional Planning Commission, which lasted 32 years.

Gov. Jim Doyle created CARPC in 2007, but, Miller said, he fears a much shorter life span.

“Mazomanie is the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “We’ve got projects to look at that are bigger and more controversial, and we have to learn to co-exist. Right now, we just don’t have that atmosphere.”

The commission better learn quick, said Mazomanie Village Clerk Susan Dietzen, or its days are numbered.

“It’s going to go the same way as the last commission,” she said.

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