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.

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(3) comments


I am a former and future resident of Fitchburg. I have lived in the same Rimrock neighborhood for 10 years, most of that time on the Fitchburg side of the line. I live just one mile north of the NEN, across the Nine Springs E-way. I now live in the Town of Madison, but like I said, I will be a Fitchburg resident in my current home after future annexation. I also own a small business on Irish Lane and work in vegetable farming at many locations between Lakeview and Verona. I keep a keen eye on how Fitchburg chooses to develop its wealth of open lands.

I am watching Fitchburg urban development with close attention. I see the benefits of dense, well-planned communities that both provide job opportunities and preserve the best landscapes in Dane County for future generations. But I also see speculative developments that have yet to fill in, and worry that outmoded development proposals threaten to move more quickly than markets will follow. With so much at stake, why not proceed with current developments and find success there before opening new areas in a leapfrog fashion?

Fitchburg, especially the western shores and wooded hills of Lake Waubesa, is a true gem: rich soils, public lands, diverse wildlife habitat, and clean water. It is a destination for recreation, and a budding hotspot for organic agriculture and land stewardship. It's best future lies in preserving these qualities.

Because of this, I STRONGLY oppose the approval of an urban service extension for the North East Neighborhood. I have testified about this many times in the past. I will again. This neighborhood is key to our future, and for many more reasons, PLEASE DO NOT EXTEND URBAN SERVICES to the NEN.

We need a new kind of development in cities like Fitchburg. Fitchburg will grow, surely. But it need not grow at the expense of unique, valuable communities like Lakeview, Lake Waubesa, and the beautiful rural landscapes that thrive so close to major urban markets.

Above all, we need clean water, and urban services could easily spoil one of the finest areas in the state for clean water near our cities.

Please, consider our future and follow the good advice of scientists, new urbanists, and community members: do not extend urban services to the NEN.


Thanks, Jay, for such a well written editorial and for bringing this issue to a broader audience. I am a lifetime resident of the area and have lived specifically in Fitchburg for the past 11 years. The years of continuous irresponsible development in the city is sorely apparent everywhere you go. Once again, corrupt politics and deep pockets are taking precedence over what is best for the community and the environment. There is not one solid and responsible argument for pursuing development of the NE neighborhood while there is still undeveloped land in the CUSA! Whether you are a fan of our current mayor, Shawn Pfaff, or not the evidence speaks for itself. Please, if Fitchburg or the Lake Waubesa watershed is of any importance to you, send Mayor Pfaff an email with your thoughts.

Jay Hochmuth
Jay Hochmuth

I've lived in Fitchburg for 27 years and seen many new developments move forward in an orderly fashion. With 1200 acres already planned and available for further development in Fitchburg, how can the public benefits of the Northeast Neighborhood possibly outweigh the costs to the public of this proposal? With 1200 acres available for development, unless project proponents can demonstrate public benefits clearly exceed public costs, Fitchburg elected officials should suspend further consideration of this proposal until such time as the gap between it and other developed land in Fitchburg is closed.

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