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Wal-Mart in Jefferson

These two opinion pieces are from Tim Bare, a former Council member and a candidate in the spring 2006 election. In them, he outlines problems he sees in the Council's thinking, and specific conflicts with the proposed Wal-Mart and the city's master plan.

- John Foust, Webmaster

Let’s talk about tomorrows hope. I’m not referring to the exceptional local charity organization we have here in Jefferson. I’m talking about the fact that some of the common council members and candidates are basing their decisions about the Wal-Mart super-center on the hope that it will at some time in the future, reduce the tax burden on residential property owners. They are, at present, making this decision without concrete facts to back up their beliefs, hopes and desires. They are also making this decision in direct violation of the regulations as spelled out in our zoning code, master plan and state statutes.

After almost four years of debate there ought to be at least one and perhaps ten easily stated concrete reasons why we should build the super-center at its proposed location. Hopefully, reasons that clearly outweigh the negative aspects of such a proposal. At the council meeting on March 21, not one reason based on fact was used by the council members to justify their decision to proceed with the annexation.

John Wagner gave statistics taken from a 36 year old master plan, a plan that was replaced in 1998. John also said that we are dying on the vine, and not growing like surrounding communities. Evidence to the contrary can be found in the '03, '04,and '05 annual building permit reports, indicating that Jefferson experienced growth of about 32 million dollars or ten percent during the period covered by the reports. Ten percent growth in three years hardly constitutes dying on the vine. Peg Beyer justified her change in direction on the fact that she made a mistake when she voted to place the new police station in a residential neighborhood several years ago. She said she didn’t listen to the people back then and that she is listening to business owners and citizens now to make her decision. Eugene Benka made the claim that 27 business people signed a petition indicating that this would be good for their businesses and the community in general. Chris Havill attempted to use a bit of fuzzy math saying that the 2/10th of one percent (of registered voters) margin of victory in the recall election was a clear mandate to move forward with the project. He went on to say that even though Carol Endl won the primary in district C, that because the other two candidates garnered more votes combined, this was also a clear mandate to proceed. He further stated that the 413 people that voted for both him and Toby Tully Jr. added up to over one thousand voters. In fact only 839 people actually voted.

The comments listed above constitute the council justification in its entirety for proceeding with the annexation. After four years of discussion, where’s the beef? As I stated before there ought to be by this time clear evidence to support their hopes.

Let’s look at the claim that we should do this because 27 business owners signed a petition that claimed they would benefit from the traffic. On the face of it, it sounds like a compelling and no-brainer argument. Wow, if we can help 27 businesses by doing this, let’s proceed. What isn’t in evidence is that this unfortunately only accounts for about 7 percent of the businesses in the community. We don’t know in fact what the other 93 percent of businesses want. Not in evidence is the fact that it only accounts for 1 percent of the total properties in this community. With regard to this issue we do not know what the other 99 percent of property owners want. Even if we allow for two resident owners per business 54 is less than 7/10th of one percent of the population.

Our transportation system is in place for the use and benefit of all of our constituents, not just 27 businesses. It is the right of everyone to voice their opinion on this issue whether they’re in business or not. It is however the councils responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the community as a whole. They cannot make their decision based on the perceived benefit of a single class of property owner. We all have the right to free (not $$, freeflow) and unencumbered access to this highway system. We need the highway to get from point A to point B. Taking kids to school and sporting activities, visiting family friends and neighbors, going to church, going shopping. Yes in town and out of town. We need unencumbered access to the highway so as to provide quick and efficient police and fire protection and ambulance service to the hospital in Fort Atkinson. Many businesses do not need drive by traffic to help their endeavors. What they do need is free and unencumbered access to the highway system to deliver their commercial and industrial products to the interstate system, receive raw materials from that system, send service people out to customers in the city and beyond, and perhaps most importantly allow for their customers to get to their places of business. The highway system is also presumably utilized by the tourism industry in our community, fledgling as it is to get to our river system, parks, CPA performances etc.

Fact in evidence: the preliminary traffic impact study provided by Wal-Mart indicates that the highway 26 intersections with Ryan and Collins Rds will function at near gridlock conditions at least until the bypass is complete sometime around 2011. Even after the bypass is complete these same intersections will function below the minimum level of service (LOS) allowed for in our zoning code. This annexation and big box project was put on hold for several months while the zoning code was looked at and extensively updated in anticipation for this project. It is an extremely modern zoning code: it is not outdated. It needs to be adhered to. Highway 26 carries the largest volume of traffic into through and out of our community. The traffic study indicates that this project will generate 37% more traffic than the highway presently carries. Even though one exists, you shouldn’t need a traffic impact study to realize that there will be gridlock surrounding this project.

We as citizens or business owners shouldn’t have to live with gridlock for one year two years and certainly not the five to six years until the bypass is fully functional in 2011. Wisconsin state statute 62.23 (7) Zoning(c) Zoning regulations shall be made in accordance with the master plan and designed to lessen congestion in the streets… Our zoning code states that any project larger than 50,000 square feet shall be made to provide adequate evidence that it is compatible with our Comprehensive Master Plan. Our Master Plan on page 53 states that we should: coordinate land development with transportation system improvements. (Not the only mention in the plan). Our zoning code lists LOS C as the minimum LOS allowed. (A being best F being worst)

The Wal-Mart traffic impact study utilized LOS D as a minimum with the aforementioned intersections functioning at LOS D, E, and F until after the bypass is complete. Our Master plan states that the city will carefully consider the impact of proposed commercial rezoning on the economic viability of existing commercial areas in the community before it makes a decision on the petition. The economic viability referred to is not just about whether existing businesses will survive with the increase in competition, it also pertains to the economic impact of the absence of free and unencumbered access to our highway system caused by gridlock. The Wal-mart Research Findings document completed by the Jefferson Development Commission early in 2005 states on page one: ….level of service is a valid concern and the development should demonstrate an effective level of service.

Please call your aldermen/woman, all eight of them, and the Mayor, before April 4 to let them know that gridlock is not an option for our community. We simply can’t afford to live with it. This project can and should wait until the bypass is built.

Over the years there have been some council members expressing concern over Wal-Mart walking away if we don’t let them build here/build now. I disagree. Wal-Mart wants a store at the center of the donut so to speak. If Wal-Mart wanted to, the city of Fort Atkinson would allow them to build on the south side. It is too close to the Janesville store. Although it hasn’t been discussed, I’m almost positive that Johnson Creek would welcome yet one more big-box to the mix. It is too close to the Watertown store. Lake Mills, Cambridge and Helenville are not in close enough proximity to the market (center of the donut) that Wal-Mart wants to serve. Jefferson is it. Patience is a virtue. Good things come to those that wait. Haste makes waste. Let's make our decisions based on facts, not on unfounded hopes. Again please contact all of your city representatives to express your concern over their genuine lack of regard for the looming traffic problem before us. Tell them not to rezone the recently annexed property until the bypass is complete.

I have found no less that seven violations/conflicts in the master plan and zoning code and state statutes with the development happening at its presently proposed location.

Wisconsin Statute 62.23 (7)(c) Zoning regulations shall be made in accordance with a comprehensive master plan and designed to lessen congestion in the streets…to secure safety from fire panic and other dangers….to facilitate the adequate provision of transportation

From Section 17.05(6)(m) big box ordinance:

Under Section 1. m. 1.Compatibility with city plans. The applicant shall provide through a written report ……, that the development is consistent with the City’s comprehensive master plan.

Master plan violations:

  1. page 56 ,… prohibit incompatible land uses (e.g. high traffic generators etc.) from locating within or next to residential neighborhoods. The property on the east side of hwy k is designated single family residential in the City’s master plan. (Page 86)
  2. Page 32, Environmental corridors: … these areas shall be preserved and protected. The Wisc DNR has issued guidelines for mapping environmental corridors: steep slopes of 12% or greater. Approximately two acres of the parcel are so designated.
  3. page 53, … Coordinate land development with transportation system improvements.
  4. page 61, … 16 the city will carefully consider the impact of proposed commercial rezoning on the economic viability of existing commercial areas in the community before it makes a decision on the petition. The plan commission rezoned this property without any consideration or discussion for that matter.
  5. page 66, Utility System Goal 2 4. Avoid urban development in areas that cannot be easily or economically served with municipal utilities such as …. Storm sewers. The storm sewer is inadequate in this location without a 22 acre parking lot adding to the runoff. Wmart has indicated they are not interested in paying to upgrade the system from hwy 26 to the river.
  6. page 66, Natural resources goal 1. 1. Preserve… steep slopes greater than 15%… scenic vistas 3. Preserve productive farmland.
  7. page 90, A. Transportation and land use planning coordination. The entire five paragraphs.
  8. Big box zoning ordinance: LOS not below LOS C

Tim Bare