More than 1,000 people have signed a petition opposing the project.
Not too long ago Dane County government was known for its epic land-use battles. Center stage at nearly every county board meeting a decade ago was a debate tied to one question: Where and how should Dane County grow?
Those battles have faded, but as the national economy stabilizes, our region is experiencing a resurgence in development and new construction. And one of those developments is resurrecting those old questions and arguments over growth.
The proposed Northeast Neighborhood in Fitchburg sits right next to sensitive wetlands adjacent to our Yahara Chain of Lakes.
There are good reasons why growing numbers of Dane County citizens and leaders are questioning this proposed 900-acre development, supported by the city of Fitchburg, that casts a shadow -- almost literally -- on Lake Waubesa.
Public entities like Dane County and private groups like the Clean Lakes Alliance are budgeting millions of dollars each year to clean up our lakes. The Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, farmers, businesses, environmental groups and elected officials are finally together at the table with a clear, collaborative focus: getting phosphorus out of our lakes and more people back in them. Why would we risk undoing our progress and polluting our lakes further?
Fitchburg has thousands of acres farther away from water where fertilizers and other pollutants won't easily reach the lakes where we fish and boat. That is why it's so puzzling that Fitchburg leaders are pushing for this massive development of 1,570 dwellings in this highly sensitive area adjacent to Lake Waubesa and near the Nine Springs E-Way and Swan Creek.
A final decision on approving this project was recently postponed until November by the Capitol Area Regional Planning Commission, which reviews such developments. The vote is on extending urban service sewage lines, which would essentially pave the way for the development. The delay is indicative of the knots many have in their stomach about how such a development could change the landscape of our county for decades to come.
Here is the reality: Dane County continues to see record rainfalls that fill garden rain gauges like never before. More development means more runoff. Hundreds of new homes in this area would mean serious trouble for Lake Waubesa.
More than 1,000 people have already signed a petition opposing this development. Environmental issues are just one concern; public safety is another.
It is not clear whether the area, located many miles from Fitchburg's urban core, could effectively be served by fire and emergency medical services. Emergency responses in nearby neighborhoods already take longer than National Fire Protection standards allow. Hundreds of new homes and families would only mean more emergency calls for help where people already wait much longer than they should.
A snapshot from recent months in the vicinity of the proposed Northeast Neighborhood shows it took responders more than eight minutes to get to a crash where a car hit a bicyclist. It took 13 minutes for responders to get to a wreck where a car flipped over. And someone choking waited more than eight minutes for help.
The National Fire Protection response standard is under five minutes, 20 seconds. Fitchburg has plenty of land closer to its urban core it could develop and serve with the timely public safety services and other infrastructure people deserve in their communities.
What will happen to Lake Waubesa and its wetlands? How long will people wait to get public safety help when they need it? The questions outnumber clear answers for the development being pushed by Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff. With the project now on hold, Fitchburg's mayor and the City Council have an opportunity to be responsive to both the environmental and public safety concerns raised.
Building up an area bordering sensitive wetlands and a beautiful lake, with the closest fire truck 10 minutes away, is neither smart growth nor safe growth.
Joe Parisi is Dane County Executive.