A proposed Stoughton development that would include a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the western edge of town is unlikely to get underway this year, but it hasn’t stopped disagreement between a group of residents and the mayor’s staff.
The Stoughton City Council in January approved a development agreement with Verona ’s Forward Development Group to build Kettle Park West, a multi-stage project that would include commercial, residential and business components, on 35 acres of recently annexed land at the northwest corner of the intersection of Highways 51 and 138.
At the time, much of the opposition was focused on the developer’s secrecy over the inclusion of a 153,000 square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter as the anchor tenant. But with tax increment financing (TIF) for the project still unresolved, opponents are questioning whether the project merits the $4.6 million tentatively negotiated by city staff and the procedure that was followed.
TIF financing for Kettle Park West must work its way through the city’s Plan Commission, a public hearing, City Council and a joint TIF review board before construction can begin.
City officials are awaiting the results of an independent economic impact study by Minneapolis’ Maxfield Research Inc. before moving along the process. But Roger Springman, a retired environmental planner for the state, claims that the city violated its own TIF policy by signing a development agreement before the study was completed.
“In theory (an economic impact study) should have been done before the development agreement was even signed but everything was done backwards down here to jam this thing through. Right now at the 12th hour the impact study is not done … To use public money for largely private-sector development, there has to be protocol,” Springman said.
In their own study, Springman and fellow Stoughton resident Russ Reppen, who previously worked for the state Department of Revenue, questioned figures provided by Forward Development Group in its own impact study. The two argue that the combined value of the four businesses involved in the first build-out was likely overvalued by more than $5 million and that tax revenues in the TIF district would fall over $2 million short over the life of the district.
The independent study is still four to eight weeks from completion. When it’s finished, it should provide a clearer picture of the economic environment for the project, said Rodney Scheel, Planning and Economic Development director for Stoughton.
“Everybody’s going to have an opinion about it because it won’t say if you have a certain number of jobs or fiscal benefit to the community, it’s a go or it’s not a go,” he said.
Springman still doubts the value of the independent study because the names of two of the four stores involved in the initial build-out have not been disclosed.
Scheel declined to critique Springman and Reppen’s study. Forward Development Group could not be reached Thursday.
The project’s TIF and specific implementation plans need to be finalized by Dec. 31. Scheel said he doesn’t expect construction to begin before next spring.