Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Road To Sprawlville, Chapter IV, Rolls Through Waukesha County's "Cow Corner"

This latest installment of "The Road to Sprawlville" takes us through a central Waukesha County highway intersection known colloquially and accurately as "Cow Corner."

It is to this spot that the Village of Wales (pop. 2,655) has decided to expand a tax increment financing district and use public funds for a sewer extension - - proving again that sewers bring development to exurban and rural America these days as rail lines spread the economy in an earlier era.

The sewer project will facilitate the construction of some commercial buildings, a coffee shop, and a Walgreen's.

That's an upgrade, I suppose, for the highway crossroads that is within walking distance of Kettle Moraine High School and LeDuc's, the locals' excellent frozen custard stand.

Highway 83 is a north-south route, while Highway 18 runs from the west through working farms and new subdivisions all the way east to the City of Waukesha, six miles away.

The highway intersection now boasts a gas station, a supermarket and a drive-in bank; subdivisions and silos share the nearby landscape, as development has carved deeply into the hilly Kettle Moraine and brought heavy traffic to the area.

And sure enough, on the northwest corner of the intersection on a recent afternoon, a half-dozen or so cows and calves were taking it easy at the edge of their ten acres, in a thunderstorm.

The scene was a reminder that Waukesha County had and still has a agricultural component - - though developers and municipalities, in a mutual money-making pact, are converting every agricultural acre they can find to add home inventories, businesses and tax base onto their respective books.

That's been the classic development formula, certainly since the end of World War II - - pushing people and traffic further from existing communities and business districts.

But there are bumps these days along The Road to Sprawlville, where the TIF that Wales is expanding literally through a piece of cow country was created to help launch a major condo development - - a project that has been on hold for a year because the housing market is in the tank.

Maybe the recent cut in interest rates will loosen up the frozen home-building and selling market.

But you've got to think that empty-nesters who might have downsized to a Wales village condo or a unit in downtown Waukesha may stay in the old family homestead if it selling taking a nasty loss into an ugly, down market.

And first-time home buyers, with tighter money and credit in their pockets, may also stay out of the new housing market, too - - continuing to shrink the demand for homes in Waukesha County corn fields or cow pastures that come with an hour-long commutes to city jobs, with gas around $3 a gallon.

All of which could leave the Village of Wales and its property taxpayers holding a TIF District on its books with insufficient development and tax payments to support it.

For the record, earlier posts in my occasional series about Sprawlville, are here, (on the road to Ft. Atkinson), here (in Dousman), and here (somewhat of a detour - - on the $25 million "diamond-design" I-94 interchange planned to service the planned upscale shopping mall at Pabst Farms, Sprawlville's Capital City).


Anonymous said...

Remember the days when TIF districts were limited to helping blighted urban areas become cost neutral with cornfield developments? Ironic that a blight elimination tool has now become the preferred tool for promoting sprawl.

James Rowen said...

Geoff is absolutely right.
Can you say "Pabst Farms?"

Anonymous said...

The destruction of century-old family farms for the golf course and condos (how are they selling) on the other side of Wales, on historic amd once-lovely Brandybrook Road, is heartbreaking.

Just wait until toxic chemicals are used to keep that golf course green -- and then they run into the brook and then into the Fox River. . . .

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Geoff. The state's TIF law needs another round of reform, restricting TIF use in agricultural areas. It's highly doubtful though...

So here's a question for all. If suburbs are using TIF ubiquitously, and in order to compete effectively, should the City of Milw be more aggressive with TIF use? My hunch is - absolutely!

Dave said...

The City of Milwaukee should be lobbying to end the use of TIF financing for greenfield developments