Saturday, February 17, 2007

Surprise! Sprawl At Pabst Farms To Cost More Tax Dollars!!

Turns out that folks at a Waukesha County Department of Transportation meeting last Thursday began to come to grips with a reality about the highly-touted Pabst Farms project that somehow had escaped their recognition.

It's gonna cost more tax money to deal with.

In other words: if you put 1,200 residences, a large hospital, an elementary school, a YMCA, a shopping center, various other commercial buildings, and, oh yes, a million-square-foot upscale shopping mall on farmland, you will generate a lot of new traffic.

So much traffic that Waukesha County will have to widen three, two-lane roads near the 1,500-acre project to at least four lanes (so maybe six lanes?) at a cost of about $20 million.

Those expenses are on top of additional cost changes, in the $20-25 million range, to the state's plan to widen the so-called I-94 'freeway' at the project's doors.

Maybe that's the problem. That free part.

Freeways are not free.

They are 100% paid for with tax dollars.

Yet many people think there aren't social and public budgetary costs - - consequences, if you will - - to projects so big that they literally change the landscape.

Faced with having to raise more tax money where a taxpayer revolt is supposed to be active, some Waukesha officials hope to pay for part of the new county road network with a subsidy from state sales tax collections. That might happen.

And maybe the Pabst Farms developer will kick in a contribution. But here's the hard truth: local and county officials wanted this project, and moved heaven and a lot of earth to get it underway, and now the real bills have to be paid.

How about having the shoppers kick in a buck each time they enter a mall parking lot? That's what you pay if you make a purchase at The Shops at Grand Avenue, in downtown Milwaukee, to park in a mall ramp.

One last set of questions: Are Waukesha County taxpayers also ready to pony up more tax dollars if the project's stormwater and sewer components fail to efficiently connect with supply and treatment facilities in the area?

Or if the project needs more fresh water than planners projected?

Of if the development distorts the region's underground water supply because its pavement - - now to include miles of new roads - - rests right on the very acreage through which rain and snowmelt seeps downward and replenishes the water table?

Sprawl hits hard at all public infrastructure costs - - roads, fresh water, safety, education, sewage treatment - - and that's why those costs are minimized when development is focused where infrastructure is already in place.

With the costs spread across a large base.

In cities.

People who might rightly complain the loudest in Waukesha County about the rising public costs of Pabst Farms are City of Waukesha property taxpayers.

They've already paid for basic infrastructure, and it has helped spur some downtown condos there.

But now sprawl at Pabst Farms has leap-frogged downtown Waukesha, requiring Waukesha city residents to send property tax money westward in the county portion of their bills.

And even farther from the Waukesha City limits if the massive residential, mall and commercial complex is approved that developer Bob Lang wants abutting Lapham Peak State Park just inside the Waukesha County line in rural Delafield.

No comments: