In his opinion column "The Do-Nothing Ethic" (2/16/2012), Larry Kaufmann criticized my efforts to curb urban sprawl in one of the most environmentally sensitive watersheds in Dane County.
The West Branch of the Sugar River was removed from the Environmental Protection Agency's list of endangered waters only a few years ago. This river is a vital natural and economic resource that's home to some of the finest fishing and canoeing in Dane County. That's just one of many good reasons I and many others have questioned the need for a proposed housing development on a steep hill south of Verona that runs straight down into a popular trout steam in this watershed.
Another part of the proposed project calls for commercial development on property with shoreline on the Sugar River.
Verona is one of our county's many wonderful communities. It has one of our county's top employers in Epic, a family-owned grocery store that's the place to be on Saturdays, other small businesses, and good schools, parks and trails. It also has hundreds upon hundreds of vacant lots for sale - lots already within Verona's urban service area that sit ready for residential development.
In fact, if you started building homes in Verona today at the pace they were built during the boom years of the housing market a few years ago, it would take more than eight years to fill the number of lots that sit empty today. That's right; Verona does not need to add an acre of land to the city and right now has enough room to grow for more than eight years.
And that's just residential development. There are hundreds of acres of vacant land zoned for commercial and business development also annexed into Verona.
Developers are sitting on more than 300 vacant acres slated for commercial development near the intersection of County Highways M and PB. Signs have been on this property for years, soliciting prospective business development to Verona. Like everywhere else in the state and country, new business development has been sluggish.
In other words, there are plenty of readily available opportunities to bring jobs to Verona without compromising the Sugar River and the Badger Mill Creek, which feeds into it just southwest of the city. There is simply no need to invoke the "jobs versus environment" mantra of the past.
We are doing a lot of good things for jobs in Dane County without promoting unnecessary, ill-advised suburban sprawl.
I created an office to coordinate Dane County's economic development efforts. It will work closely with the business community and communities across our county to promote both new business development and the retention of existing businesses. One of its primary focuses will be matching job skills for prospective employees with employers and enhancing minority employment opportunities.
The county is also partnering with the Wisconsin Farmers Union on a new packing house to help get more of our locally grown goods to breakfast, lunch and dinner plates across our state and the entire Upper Midwest. This facility will create jobs and more income for our farmers while bolstering our already $3-billion-a-year Dane County agriculture industry.
In addition, our county is rapidly emerging as a national leader in the area of green energy jobs, and I am working on a number of fronts to get more of those jobs here.
One thing has become crystal clear to me, not only as county executive, but also as a lifelong resident of Dane County: Quality of life matters, and environmental protection matters. Dane County's high quality of life, which includes our natural environment, is a vital asset in our efforts to attract and retain good employers and good jobs.
Dane County is adding far more people per year than any other town, city, village or county in the state. Six thousand new residents move to our county each year. That's like adding a village the size of Cottage Grove - every year. We lose about 20,000 acres of land to development each decade.
Given that, it makes sense for communities like Verona to build on land already annexed before grabbing hundreds more acres that may harm a prized natural resource like the Sugar River.
Yes, we will continue to grow; but what's important is not just that we grow. How we grow matters, too.
Joe Parisi is the Dane County executive.