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Policy dispute puts development on hold

By Paul Snyder

Elected municipal leaders, not an appointed commission, should determine where and how cities grow in Wisconsin, according to Verona’s director of planning and development.

“That decision, for me, is black and white,” Bruce Sylvester said. “By law, elected officials at the municipal level make growth decisions. But now people are challenging that.”

Those people, Sylvester said, are the members of the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission. The commission rejected a city of Verona request to annex 265 acres from the town of Verona. The city’s growth plan includes housing and a clinic for the land.

Sylvester said the city now is taking its case to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The commission, which was formed in 2007, is an advisory board to the DNR to ensure municipalities that extend water and sewer services in the Madison metropolitan area do not hurt water quality.

“We’re simply doing what we think is prudent planning for the next step in city development,” Sylvester said.

“The issue here is: Do cities decide where we’re going to grow, or does an appointed body decide where city and villages are going to grow?”

The commission crossed the line, Sylvester said, when some commissioners were more concerned about building placement in the Verona proposal than they were protecting water quality.

Caryl Terrell, a member of the commission, said the panel can carry its discussions into topics beyond water.

“The DNR does not have the statutory authority to go beyond our recommendations relating to clean water,” she said. “But if you look at the state’s statutory language, regional planning commissions can debate land-use and transportation issues.”

The land Verona wants to annex includes portions the Sugar River and Badger Mill Creek, and, Terrell said, the city’s case was not strong enough in its proposed protection of water resources. Terrell was absent from the meeting during which the commission voted on the annexation.

State law requires 60 percent storm water retention for new commercial development in urban service areas.

Verona’s plan proposed 90 percent retention, but commissioners said they want 100 percent.

But the opposition, Sylvester said, would be there even if the city hits the 100 percent goal.

“Some people just don’t want to see a clinic there,” he said. “And that’s completely irrelevant to CARPC’s direct purpose. If we’ll protect the water, what right do they have to vote based on land use?”

Curt Brink, a commissioner who voted in favor of annexation, said development in the area would let commission and county staff members monitor such issues as the effect development has on water temperature.

Sylvester said the city will not sue over the decision, as is the case in Mazomanie and its pending lawsuit against the DNR for failing to review a commission rejection of a 200-acre development. Mazomanie leaders have predicted the commission will face the same end as the Dane County Regional Planning Commission, which former Gov. Scott McCallum killed in 2002 after similar municipal disputes.

Terrell downplayed the threat, saying cities and villages are trying to figure out how to work with the three-year-old commission.

“I think the commissioners are trying to fulfill the role they’ve been given, and municipalities are adjusting to what we require,” she said.

That learning process should not include the commission meddling in municipal growth plans, Sylvester said.

“They need to keep land use, density and transportation issues separate,” he said. “If any of that washes over the wall, they’re going to be in trouble.”

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