Saturday, May 26, 2007

Pabst Farms - - Not Taxpayers - - Can Pay For New Mall Interchange

Planning in southeastern Wisconsin has been legendarily bungled for years - - but the revelation that the vaunted regional freeway expansion plan doesn't contain funding for an interchange for Pabst Farms' shopping mall is a doozy.

Planning in Western Waukesha County has long been the nearly-private preserve of a handful of powerful interests.

A Pabst Farms' initial consultant was Ruekert & Mielke, the same firm that has done water supply studies for both fast-growing Waukesha and New Berlin, and is also managing the regional planning commission's (SEWRPC) three-year-long water supply study.

Dan Warren, Pabst Farms project manager, is the chairman of the Waukesha Water Utility commission.

And SEWRPC wrote the freeway expansion plan, much of which has been driven (lousy pun) by housing and retail projects on farm land and open space in Waukesha County.

Where the Pabst Farms project, 1,500 homes on 1,500 acres, anchored by a hospital and upscale mall, is the biggest project of them all.

You have to ask: this was just a $20 million oopsie, an oversight? Is it conceivable that the Pabst Farms designers, mall owners, government agencies and highway officials didn't discuss how shoppers were going to get in and out of a million-square-foot retail attraction?

Or did all these honchos figure that taxpayers would write the check because folks out in Waukesha County would spare no expense to get a glitzy mall closer than Mayfair?

Regionalism is the rage right now, so maybe the business and government consortium known as M 7 will define Pabst Farms as a regional asset requiring regional investment - - sticking Milwaukee County residents with the biggest share.

That's how SEWRPC's annual budget is put together, and how its heavily-suburban water study got funded, so why not pay for a spanking new highway interchange for upscale suburban mall-goers the same way?

It was questionable, certainly, when communities in Waukesha County kicked in millions in public, Tax Incremental Financing dollars to help build the Pabst Farms complex right on top of the land that provides key filtration and recharge for the region's underground water supply.

But more public financing for Pabst Farms amenities would move from questionable to outrageous - - and probably to court - - should the powers-that-be deem a $20 million freeway interchange for a shopping mall to be a public need.

Fair solution:

If Pabst Farms managers want an interchange for their mall, they can pay for it.

(UPDATE: Read about the probable demise to the developer's bulldozers of the Ruby Farm, another Waukesha County landmark, here.)

1 comment:

Jim Bouman said...

Well said.

Pabst Farms may be the canary in the mineshaft, an early warning of how much of the "upscale" developments--Brandy Brook, Broadlands and Bristlecone Pines, to name three--are headed for the kind of lingering demise that made a (famously laughable) name for Francis Jay Schroedel, the Rainbow Springs impresario, forty years ago.

The Aurora Hospital has broken ground (or will very soon). There may still be time for that benighted project to abort before it too winds up in the junkyard of dreams-that-morphed-into-nightmares.