Friday, September 7, 2007

The Pabst Farm Interchange Debate Continues

On Tuesday, I posted commentary on the fast-tracked deal to spend $25 million for the Pabst Farms shopping mall Interstate interchange.

I said it would use public funds to induce sprawl and drain business away from nearby small-town Main streets.

I also argued that it was a sweet deal for the mall's developers because they are paying just 7% of the interchange cost while taxpayers will pick up the remaining 93%.

Later in this post, you will see that Kurt Bauer, Executive Director of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, holds personal opinions that support much of my land-use argumentation.

In an editorial today, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel disagrees, but also notes that along with better highways, the region needs improved transit, upgraded water treatment facilities and more sensitive planning overall.

Points well taken - - though sprawl and poor planning in Waukesha are more likely to accelerate in direct proportion to the amount of highway concrete that is poured, farmland that is converted, and new water supply that is piped there.

It's worth remembering that the Pabst Farms project - - really a self-contained small city with hundreds of homes, a hospital, a school, parking lots and multiple commercial ventures that will include a million-square foot mega-mall - - spreads acres of pavement right on top of once-agricultural land.

The very same land that still serves as the vital recharge area through which rain and snowfall are absorbed for the aquifer, which is the region's underground water supply.

The Pabst Farms project will spur more construction throughout the historic Kettle Moraine, encroaching on or near environmental corridor lands that the regional planning commission (SEWRPC) has recommended for decades in its Land Use Plan be left alone.

Kurt Bauer, SEWRPC executive director emeritus, has said often that the commission's original Land Use Plan, updated since, contains many good recommendations, including some that have been followed and some that have not.

(Bauer is the chairman of SEWRPC's controversial water supply study advisory committee - - controversial because it is headed, in my opinion, towards recommending sprawl-inducing diversions of Lake Michigan water into Waukesha County, so the spiral continues. Though retired as the agency's long-time executive director, he remains an agency consultant.)

At the advisory committee meeting of November 30, 2005, Bauer said that some local governments' failure to adopt SEWRPC's environmental corridor recommendations "in the Land Use Plan for 20 or 30 years" had been "a tragedy."

He recommended that environmentalists read the plan, and thinking he was aiming that comment at me (I was in the audience), I talked to Bauer after the meeting and he made sure I got a copy of the plan to peruse.

And as an aside, Bauer said to me, "Pabst Farms should never have been built."

That statement stuck with me.

Today I asked Bauer by telephone to amplify it, which he did, emphasizing that it was "a personal view."

Said Bauer: "Pabst Farms was at one time in a prime agricultural area. If the Regional Land Use Plan had been followed, it [Pabst Farms] would not have been given over for should have been kept in agricultural, open use."

And as to agriculture in Waukesha County, which Bauer said was a worldwide cattle provider as late as the 1960's?

"Agriculture is pretty much gone there," he said.

Bauer said the key to containing sprawl is land use decision-making at the front end of the planning and development processes because "land use is the key to all these problems that we don't address" - - but he said that residential developers across the region continue to convert open land, with commercial and industrial land following.

"The containment of sprawl: [SEWRPC] has been preaching against it for forty years, but it's crying in the wilderness."

"Pabst Farms is a big change. You can see it," Bauer said.

"But alot of these changes occur in small increments. What do the Chinese say? 'It's the death by a thousand cuts.'"

My take on sprawl, both in smaller increments and the big, Pabst Farms' scale examples, in Waukesha County and across the region?

If regionalism and regional planning don't have preservation as their centerpiece, then we are squandering God-given gifts of water, forests and glacial hills, leaving behind a lament of failure through greed as our grandchildren's legacy.


Steve Branca said...

Where are the right-wing small-government anti-tax people on this one? They should be the ones to stand up and demand that taxpayers should not build an interchange that will benefit disproportionatly one property owner, and many others. The Republican Party would have taken this stance. It's kind of too bad they went out of business in, oh, 1980 or so.

Lake Lover said...

As a student at UW Madison in Civil & Environmental Engineering, I'm working on a project regarding this aquifer, and how the current stormwater policy and land use plans could be modified at Pabst Farms to serve us all well in the future.

Would you mind being quoted in a Hydroscience course project?

And what do you think I have to do to convince the developer to at least use permeable concrete on all those roads and parking lots? I find it disturbing that the aquifer is not acknowledged in Pabst's signage.

Haven't they missed a learning opportunity for our community while they shop?

James Rowen said...

Feel free to use anything on this blog in your course. Thank you for reading this material.

If you enter Pabst Farms into the search box on the upper left, you will see other items.

I agree that there is a lost learning opportunity there, and development not at all in the interest of the landscape and what's below it.

I am sure you have read that even though the Pabst Farm housing developments are in suspension due to the economy, and the mall looks to be dead, WisDOT has already spent millions, quietly, buying land there for its full diamonf interchange.

Another source on the aquifer is the UW-Milwaukee WATER Institute, where hydrologists have studied the aquifer for years, and Micael Murphy, Milwaukee's longest-serving alderman, who got his geology degree with that aquifer and region as his major.

Good lluck, and feel free to email bne:

Lake Lover said...

Thank you. I actually used to work at the Great Lakes WATER Institute. The best folks on this issue are also on campus, including Dr. Doug Cherkauer in Geosciences at UWM.

James Rowen said...

To Lake Lover;

You are welcome.

I am a big fan of Doug Cherkauer's, and of the entire Institute staff.