Monday, January 19, 2015

From farm to Sussex business park, Chapter 60, The Road to Sprawlville

In this the 60th chapter of our ongoing series, "The Road to Sprawlville," we note that the exurban Waukesha County Village of Sussex, population 10,695 - - and nineteen miles from the region's largest labor market in the City of Milwaukee - - is planning a big mixed-use business park on a 73-acre farm at the developing intersection of Lisbon Rd. and State Highway 164.

The site is about five miles north of I-94.
Looking north across the site from Lisbon Rd. 

For those of you who think you're seeing only the wise hand of the free market guiding job creation, business development and land use without public subsidy or government intervention, think again:

The Village is getting ready to rezone the property away from its open space designation - - an action by a third governmental body - - to further manage changein  region's landscape and economy.

It all began when the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, (SEWRPC), headquartered a few miles to the south on State Highway 164 approved the highway's widening  - - over the objections of thousands of area residents - -  followed by the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation, (WisDOT), launching the spending millions of dollars on the road-widening project for about sixteen miles into Washington County - - again over local objections - - and even flouting the law.

This reminds me of an issue often reported here on this blog - - the local and state lending subsidies, site improvements and highway interchange spending of nearly $50 million at the troubled and incomplete Pabst Farms residential and commercial development further west of Sussex in Waukesha County.

These are the kinds of decisions that help keep the region's development and job opportunities separated by distance, race and income from Milwaukee, the state's largest city and commercial center.

According to US Census data, Sussex is less than one percent African-American, and its residents have, at about $70,000, twice the average Milwaukee household income of about $35,000.

It's all an illustration of growth patterns in Waukesha County as it heads from a population of 360,800 in 2000 to a build-out projected at 520,000 people, and where farms in Waukesha County will all but disappear, according to former SEWRPC Executive Director Kurt Bauer:

 "Agriculture is pretty much gone there," he said in a 2010 interview.
Looking south from the site's Lisbon Rd border.

Sussex is certainly not the cause of these disparities - - expertly analyzed by UWM Professor Marc Levine and his colleagues - - ,and neither is a single new development, but, like so many others, the new jobs created there are unlikely to be available by transit to Milwaukee workers - - and the development illustrates a reality about the region's economic distortions that are frequently noted in local and national reports.

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