Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No One Wants The Pabst Farms Mall Interchange Built, Records Show

People had their chance to urge public funding for a highway interchange to a privately-owned shopping mall owner in Western Waukesha County, and no one raised a hand in support, records show.

Here's the story:

Kenneth Yunker, SEWRPC's Deputy Director, made available what he described as the sum total of about 50 comments mailed or emailed to the agency to help planners decide whether the proposed I-94 interchange to an upscale shopping mall planned at Pabst Farms should move forward.

In order for the interchange to be funded and built, a regional transportation plan covering 2007-2010 projects would have to be amended; advisory public comments on such amendments are part of the process.

SEWRPC - - the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission - - is the agency delegated to accept such comments.

The interchange would cost $25 million, most of it state money, and is on a planning fast-track because officials had failed to include it in the overall Pabst Farms scheme.

Some background is here.

Pabst Farms is a mini-city on 1,500 acres of former farmland that now is the gateway from I-94, north along state highway 67 to the City of Oconomowoc.

Some of the parcels are on the south side of the interstate, too.

The overall development is set to contain 1,200 houses and condos (no apartments, no transit service), plus a hospital, offices, light manufacturing, a school, a YMCA, stores and shops - - and the retail centerpiece: a regional, upscale mall, first designed to mimic Mayfair Mall, but now to look more like the open-air Bayshore Town Center mall.

The initial mall plan fell through some months ago, and the replacement design is even more controversial because it's larger, places unsightly store backs, even Dumpsters facing the road leading to Oconomowoc, and raises the profile of adjacent proposed big-box stores, too.

Waukesha County, the City of Oconomowoc and the mall developer are to pay a total of $3.9 million of the cost, while $21.1 million would come from the state - - you and me and other taxpayers - - though some highway extensions to service private developments, or local communities, require much higher shares.

So I went out to SEWRPC today to read the comment file - - and found that the backers of the interchange completely whiffed: there was not one comment of support for the project in the file.

People from River Hills, Wauwatosa, Milwaukee, Brown Deer, Oconomowoc, Mequon, Summit, Madison and Racine registered objections.

Remarks like "oppose...strongly oppose...huge waste of tax dollars...travesty...poor public policy...height of irresponsibility...and outrage" were sprinkled throughout the letters and emails.

Commenters, some on form letters, said they preferred more transit spending, didn't want more road-building to contribute to air pollution, opposed private development receiving a public highway subsidy and wanted farmland preserved.

Four non-profit organizations and one unit of government sent in comments of opposition, too.

They organizations were the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, (ACLU-WI), Midwest Environmental Advocates (a public interest law firm), NAACP Milwaukee Branch and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Additionally, the City of Milwaukee opposed amending the 2007-2010 regional highway plan and funding the interchange, but supported including it in a future transportation plan for the region "as necessary when the schedule and traffic demand associated with the proposed regional shopping mall have been defined."

That letter was signed by four Milwaukee officials: Jeffrey Mantes, Commissioner of Public Works, Jeffrey Polenske, City Engineer, Paul Vornholt, Intergovernmental Relations and Michael Maierle, Long Range Planning, Department of City Development.


Anonymous said...

No One...?
I can't wait for the mall and the interchange to be completed. It will be a well needed shot to our community.

James Rowen said...

Note the headline says "No One..., Records Show."
Where was your comment?

Anonymous said...

Well, my records (at my office, or in my briefcase) don't show that anyone opposed my vote on the interchange - so I guess we're even. The P-Interchange is going to be great for Western Waukesha County.

If the state money was going elsewhere, perhaps I would oppose it -- but I, like most of my constituents, do not have the time in our busy lives to write such opposition letters to SEWRPC(which were probably done in conjunction with competing special interest groups).

Given what Waukesha County taxpayers contribute to the State, it is only right that some money be returned for the benefit of the County.

Peter Wolff
Waukesha County Supervisor, Dist. 20

James Rowen said...

Thanks for the posting.

Anonymous said...

County Supervisor Wolff apparently doesn't have time in his busy schedule to attend county board meetings, either. (His poor attendance record was noted in a Journal Sentinel article last summer.)

His thought process on the interchange is incomplete: Waukesha County taxpayers are paying for the interchange through our state taxes, but we're getting double-dinged through a $25 million donation from our county taxes as well. And what are we getting for our money? Well, welfare for developers. Those of us who live in other, non-Pabst farm parts of the county are getting the shaft, as usual.

Supervisor Wolff probably doesn't get much mail or other communications from his constituents because he's not the type of elected official who is responsive to the concerns of those who may disagree with his preconceived opinions.

Michael Horne said...

This shows why it is important that the public takes advantage of the extension of the comment period for the I-94 North South Corridor Study. You have until January 25th to oppose many of its absurd provisions, especially the additional lanes, the various land grabs, and the elimination of a vital exit at northbound 27th St.
Michael Horne
Editor / Publisher

Anonymous said...

Self-correction: I said that Waukesha taxpayers are chipping in $25 million. The $25 million is the total cost (we think!) of the interchange that developers, planners and elected officials "forgot" to include in their original plans. I think Waukesha County's portion was to be around $5 million. Jim (Rowen) provided a breakdown earlier this fall in his blog (Jim, maybe you could link us up?) Still, $5 million is way too much for a mall that has an uncertain future, an uncertain design, and an uncertain financial impact.

James Rowen said...

To Anonymous raising the financial question:
Good catch.
Here is the split:
Waukesha County: $1.75 million
Developer: $1.75 million
City of Oconomowoc: $400,000
State of Wisconsin: $21.1 million.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the actual figures. So now that I have them: $1.75 million is too much for Waukesha taxpayers to pay on top of the $21.1 million that is WAY TOO MUCH for Wisconsin taxpayers to cover. So, it's not just welfare for developers that we're talking about here--it's also welfare for roadbuilders. Don't we have a bridge that is falling down somewhere that would be a better investment in our infrastructure?

Anonymous said...

This guy doesn't have time to write to SEWRPC about his wish to see this thing get done? Where did he find the time to write a couple of paragraphs here? I would think that an elected official might use his time wiser writing to the state and regional authorities rather than to this or any other BLOG! (No offense Jim!)

James Rowen said...

To the last Anon.
And no offense taken. I am pleased that he sees my blog for what it is - - a vital platform for discussion.

Anonymous said...

I like the use of the term "wiffed". Brings me back to my days playing strike-out against the wall of the Public School in Hartland.

The western part of Waukesha County, the Lake Country, needs no more sprawl. It has wonderful existing old line town centers that need to be carefully rejuvenated. Stop pandering to greedy interests who are concerned only for their pocket and not for the common good.

Is Wolff a member of the Dousman Wolffs? The family that has a road building business? Is this a case for recusal?

James Rowen said...

Cletus: Thanks for the comment. I don't know about the possible family/business connection.

Anonymous said...

"The western part of Waukesha County, the Lake Country, needs no more sprawl."

Agreed. I moved out here to get away from it. The absolute clusterf*ck that is 83/1-94 is...well, an absolute clusterf*ck.

Because really what Waukesha taxpayers need is a Walgreens and a Target every 5 minutes down the road.

Thanks but no thanks.

drugrep said...

I would LOVE the mall in Pabst Farms...I am all for it and it is about time. Living in between Milwuakee and Madison it is not conducive having to drive all the way to Mayfair to go shopping...I don't care for the malls in Madison too much. Hopefully we will FINALLY get som upscale shopping like Bloomingdales, Niemans, or Lord and Taylor. The Oakbrook center in chicago seems to be exactly like what they are going for in this mall. There are more and more people moving out to this area and I feel that it is needed. The area where they want to build the mall is out of the way, not downtown. The area where they want to build is already gaining momentum with the Pick N' Save, Chili's, and Starbucks. It can't come soon enough!