Traffic, runoff top North Stoner concerns

It was standing room only at a Jan. 29 meeting about plans for the North Stoner Prairie Neighborhood, a 327-acre site bordering Seminole Highway north of Lacy Road.

It was the first step in a lengthy process to develop the site, and one of three opportunities for the public to express their opinions before the city and two partners officially consider the matter.

The 80 residents attending the meeting expressed few reservations about developing the area, which is part of the city's 25-year comprehensive development plan, although several expressed concern about traffic and the potential effects on groundwater and stormwater runoff.  The latter concern reflected an incident a few years ago when manure spread on a field cascaded down a street in an adjacent subdivision.

Resident Roger Cohee said another such incident was unlikely due to several changes in farming practices.

The area is also a closed basin, which means any additional runoff resulting from development is of concern.

Mayor Shawn Pfaff said the new neighborhood would include expansion of the city's commercial park, providing one of the few areas available in Dane County for manufacturing. Dave Schreiber with SAA Consultants, the firm hired to prepare the plan, said the Sub-Zero plant now provides 1,200 jobs, with almost 300 employees from Fitchburg.

According to a study, the Commerce Park and areas within a mile of the park have created more than 4,000 jobs.

“It's a real employment center,” Schreiber said.

Schreiber added that the population within three miles of the North Stoner Neighborhood increased by 71 percent from 1990 to 2000 - to more than 52,000 - but growth slowed to 3 percent from 2001 to 2012 in part due to a lack of housing.

Housing will be a component of the development and is likely to be a mix of apartments, single-family homes for young professionals and housing for empty-nesters.

The fact that the neighborhood is served by the Verona Area School District is a major plus, Pfaff said, as many new residents prefer sending their children to that district. The district, which has expanded in recent years to accommodate an influx of new students, also welcomes new students since enrollment has dipped in recent years.

Pfaff dampened hopes that one of the three school districts serving Fitchburg would construct a high school here due to the enormous difficulty of redistricting.

“We have to manage expectations,” he said.

Several residents were concerned about traffic from new developments ruining the character of adjacent neighborhoods, but Ald. Steve Arnold said increased connectivity had several benefits, including facilitating commuting.

Schreiber said plans could include several retail businesses but were unlikely to include big-box stores.

The plan is jointly funded by the city, Sub Zero-Wolf and Payne and Dolan. It is the first time the city has partnered with major landowners in preparing a neighborhood plan, which prompted some concern that the process might not be as transparent and flexible as previous methods that kept commercial interests at arm's length.

Proponents said the concerns are unwarranted, considering the city's veto power over aspects of the plan.

About 100 acres of the proposed neighborhood are farmed by the O'Brien brothers, who own a dairy farm at the intersection of Lacy Road and Seminole Highway. It's not known how development of the land would affect their ability to continue.

The O'Briens have unsuccessfully asked that their land be included in the area considered for development, citing the difficulty of continuing livestock production as the surrounding area is developed.

The public can attend the third meeting of the nine-member Steering Committee, which will be held Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 4 p.m. in the Meeting Room at Fitchburg City Hall.

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