Friday, August 9, 2019

In Waukesha, a village can save a town from a city

A new front is opening in Waukesha County's version of The Hundred Years War between two communities which happen to share the Waukesha name.

(Call this posting Chapter 71 in my occasional series, The Road to Sprawlville. Many have been about Waukesha, like this one dating to 2008. You can find them through Google or my blog index, upper left corner. Here, for the record was Chapter 70.)

Three Aug. 9 updates: 

1. The projected loss of four developable acres through annexation to the City of Waukesha is a good example of what the Town of Waukesha wants to stop by incorporating as a Village which brings with it better border controls. Details below.

2. The City of Waukesha Common Council was told this week its administrative staff is studying a legal challenge to the Town's potential village incorporation.  

Why? Because the City would not likely give up its ability to expand its reach, tax base and possible water customer base through annexations without a fight, especially since its existing water ratepayers are facing significant rate increases to pay for the city's controversial, $286 million Lake Michigan water diversion and return flow infrastructure. 

A bigger customer base across which the city could spread those costs would make the deal more palatable, especially to existing ratepayers.

3. That diversion plan is the subject of yet another public hearing next week.
In a nutshell, the Town at a joint Board/Plan Commission 7:00 p.m. meeting Monday night will begin the process to convert itself into a Village to strengthen its borders. I will post the agenda when I find it. Here is the Town Hall address: 
W250 S3567 Center Road, Waukesha, WI 53189
The Town of Waukesha is smaller than its more formidable, City of Waukesha neighbor, so is vulnerable to acreage annexations into the city by developers, and had found itself dragged into the city's quest for a Lake Michigan water diversion - - some history, here - - against the Town's will.

On the shoreline 

The City's pitch for a diversion which included the Town and other neighboring communities had been backed by Walker's pro-developer DNR; that questionable mapping added years of delay to an already complex review.

While the diversion battle ended with only a sliver of the Town wrapped into the city's diverted water delivery area - - some history, here - -  the Town is now moving to stem further annexation losses which subtract tax base and erode its identity and independence - - by upgrading its municipal status to Village status which brings to a Town-turned-Village strong, legal border protections.

Also, a City growing less quickly might not need as much diverted water.

Annexation is something of a paradox for municipalities: The 'winning' jurisdiction grows geographically, but then has to extend all taxpayer-paid services to its new residents and properties at its edge, where the delivery costs are the highest.

The real winners are the property owners who petition for the annexation, which can then stick neighbors with variations on Yet Another Strip Mall, Big Man's Big Box, or Vanishing Acres Subdivision, Phase I.

In fact, a major study about water, conservation planning and law in Wisconsin published in 2005 found that annexations into the City were extensive because border protection law in Wisconsin it and the City to that point had approved every annexation developers had filed. From a Waukesha case study, pages 11-13: 

The City of Waukesha’s growth over recent decades has been dramatic and shows no signs of abating. According to the 2000 Census, the City of Waukesha has reached a population of 64,825 people, making it the state’s seventh-largest city.58 By the year 2030, the City estimates that its population will reach 85,000 people, a 27 percent increase since 2000. (59)
In pace with these population projections, the City of Waukesha has been significantly expanding its boundaries. Data provided from the City of Waukesha Department of Community Development’s Planning Division demonstrates that the City, over the past 20 years, has increased in size from 15.5 square miles to 23.6 square miles, reflecting a 52% expansion... 
Moreover, city planners concede that annexations of property bordering the city occur on a regular basis, as developers continue to buy up farmland and then petition the city for annexation. In the last five years alone, over 1,300 total acres have been annexed by the City of Waukesha, with over 4,413 total acres annexed in the past 15 years.(66) 
,...the annexation process is simple and driven by land developers, who after buying up neighboring farmland,(68) initiate the process by petitioning the City Clerk for annexation. Following State Department of Administration review, and approval by the City Plan Commission, the city’s Common Council invariably accepts the petition for annexation.(69) 
It looks like the Town of Waukesha has found a way to preserve its character on its own terms. 

Time will tell. A state law allowing for some fast-tracked municipal incorporation expires next year, hence the Town's reported haste.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Waukesha and it's sprawl and need for fresh water from Lake Michigan is only one aspect to their self created problems. The other is storm water/sewage treatment. Notice that Waukesha refuses to accept any statutory caps on its' population growth/ industrial growth and usage etc. So it will be a never ending series of petitions to increase the draw from whatever initial amount they start with. Waukesha should be required to accept limits to its' growth being placed in law and be required to install and employ resource usage reduction programs that lessen the impact of their existing willy-nilly sprawl. I'm tired of hearing Waukesha bellyache that these programs are expensive etc. Tough crap. Do it. You have the tax base. There should be reduction/efficiency percentages codified and if Waukesha fails to meet these requirements there should be financial penalties paid to the surrounding communities and other Great Lakes States. It is not up to the rest of us to shoulder the burden for the irresponsible land/resource use Waukesha engaged in beginning decades ago. It is proven in documentation from the City and the DNR that they knew their approach was damaging and unsustainable. They should not be allowed to just thumb their nose and expect no correction to what caused this need in the first place.