The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources reached a decision on the future of development near Lake Waubesa and its wetlands this week, approving an urban service area expansion for less than half the requested land.
Fitchburg had plans to develop a 985.9-acre area in the northeast corner of the city, a proposal that spurred environmental concerns about its proximity to the wetlands. To enable development, the city applied for an expansion of the Central Urban Service Area to extend sewers and necessary infrastructure to the area.
That application has been drawn out for months, with the city appealing to the DNR after the Capital Area Regional Planning Commission denied its request. On Tuesday, the DNR reached a decision to approve some of the expansion, totaling 375 acres instead of the requested 985.
“(It's) somewhat surprising, just looking at the map, but actually kind of gratifying that they seem to be focusing in on the science and the risk," said Mayor-elect Steve Arnold, who defeated incumbent Shawn Pfaff in the spring election.
Pfaff has been pushing for the expansion and development while Arnold has backed off, saying during the campaign he does not believe development needs to happen on that land anytime soon.
“I am concerned about development in that area,” Arnold said, saying that the DNR's decision will require more analysis before the city decides how to move forward.
“The DNR’s approved for areas that we eventually want approved, that I want approved eventually,” Arnold said. “They’ve also approved some areas that are a little scarier.”
The approved area mostly surrounds County Highway MM, leaving out large sections along the north, east and south borders of the original area. The decision said that land is "hydrologically complex," calling for professional wetland delineations and buffers.
“We are pleased to see that our arguments were listened to by the DNR,” said West Waubesa Preservation Coalition Chair Phyllis Hasbrouck, though she was disappointed that they still approved a large part of the proposal.
Hasbrouck was also pleased at the DNR’s direction for Fitchburg to work with CARPC on providing updated land use needs. The existing land use needs used for much of the process relied on 2003 projections, but with 2013 ones now available, the DNR is requesting updated numbers.
Hasbrouck said she’s hopeful those new calculations will show there is no need for the land right now, an idea Arnold is already spouting.
“I don’t think we need that land today,” Arnold said.
Arnold said the main development pressure is coming from Fitchburg Lands, LLC, which owns much of the land east of Highway MM. He said that pressure is focused on the town of Dunn line on an area only partially included in this approval.
“(The map) basically bisects the area for which we’re getting the development pressure,” Arnold said.
Moving forward, he said the city will likely have to update the Northeast Neighborhood plan before doing anything else, but for him, it’s not a priority.
In addition to the updated land use projects, the DNR’s decision carries a slew of requirements for Fitchburg to develop in that swath of land. Those include submission of a detailed storm water management plan, providing wetland delineations to CARPC, working with CARPC and DNR to conduct a condition survey of all affected wetlands and conducting a watershed study, among other requirements.
Hasbrouck said the coalition has been working on this issue for over nine years and is dedicated to preserving the waterways as this unfolds.
“We’ll continue to work to protect the land upstream from these gems,” she said.