Many people believe that new development is always good for a community. Some types are good. They add to the tax base, create efficiencies in services, and, in some cases, can actually improve environmental conditions.
Other developments may create new tax base, but also create huge drains on municipal services, cause significant environmental damage, and cost taxpayers far more than they provide in tax revenue.
The city of Fitchburg is currently considering a development in the second category. Known as the Northeast Neighborhood, the area is bounded by Highway 14 on the west, Larsen Road on the east, East Clayton Road on the north, and Goodland Park Road and Haight Farm Road on the south. This area is not contiguous to any other development.
Fitchburg has roughly 1,200 undeveloped acres within the Central Urban Service Area (CUSA). Those areas have available water and sewer. Almost all are within a four-minute response time for the Fire Department. They are contiguous to current development, so it is efficient to provide other municipal services, like police, trash collection, street maintenance, snowplowing, etc.
The Northeast Neighborhood is not within the CUSA. Fitchburg is considering submitting an application to the Capitol Area Regional Plan Commission to add it. This application should not be submitted. If it is submitted, it should be rejected. Some reasons are as follows:
1. The area is almost three-fourths of a mile from the current edge of development. Municipal services will have to travel 1.5 miles round trip across vacant land, at significant cost.
2. The area has no water or sewer service. Fitchburg’s Water Utility would have to borrow in excess of $2 million to build those utilities. The area within the CUSA can currently be served with little additional investment. Areas with existing service should be built in before burdening the ratepayers with the cost of new infrastructure.
3. The Northeast Neighborhood is seven to 12 minutes away from Fire Station No. 1. This is unacceptable, and people will be endangered. The mayor has suggested that the city of Madison could potentially cover that area. It seems unlikely that Madison taxpayers would subsidize this service. Current staffing at Madison Fire Station No. 6 is barely adequate, and an additional crew and an additional engine would be costly.
4. Fitchburg’s last Urban Service Area amendment was approved in 2010. CARPC was promised that it would be at least five years before another request, and that was predicated on significant development occurring. Fewer than six buildings are under construction in the 1,200 acres available. Reason would expect hundreds of buildings to be constructed before another amendment was requested.
5. Development of the Northeast Neighborhood poses a significant risk to Lake Waubesa, which already has a eutrification problem. No studies have been done to examine what the effect would be on Lake Waubesa.
6. There is no reason to do this with so much land currently available and a sluggish market.
The major landowner involved is a political supporter of the current mayor. Politics should not play a factor in what should be objective planning decisions. Sacrificing environmental protection and taxpayer money should not happen to reward a political supporter. No reasonable person would support this amendment. I hope that in this case, reason will prevail.
Jay Allen is a former Fitchburg mayor.