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Friday, April 27, 2007

When it comes to development, residents pay attention

Last week's decision by Sho-Deen Construction to kill--at least temporarily--plans for a large-scale housing development in Delavan Township is the latest in a series of development projects in Walworth County that have failed to pass the scrutiny of public opinion.

The Intersport youth sports complex proposal for Elkhorn and the plan for the Yerkes property in Williams Bay are just two other high profile projects that come to mind.

The trend is both good and bad for Walworth County.

There are lessons to be learned from how these proposals played out, and all involved need to do their homework to find ways of having projects like these work for everyone.

As the Sho-Deen drama showed, the voice of public opinion is a factor in what gets done and what doesn't get done in Walworth County.

It may not be pretty, but strong public input in government decision making cannot be underestimated.

That's what Sho-Deen found out after they pitched a plan in August of 2005 for a housing development that would over time reach up to 6,000 housing units.

By January of this year, Sho-Deen had eliminated close to 1,230 of those units. Residents' opinions were split between those who saw an opportunity to improve the tax base and grow the community with those who feared what would happened to the township as they knew it.

As timing would have it, the election on April 3 became a referendum on the Sho-Deen plan, and a majority of voters spoke loud and clear.

Supervisors Larry Malsch and Dolores Nowak, who were seen as pro Sho-Deen, were voted out and Jim Wolfgram and Kay Franzen, who ran on their opposition to the development, took their seats.

Then, at the town's annual meeting April 10, Supervisor Bill Endisch announced that that he and his wife are moving to Whitewater and he will step down Monday, April 30.

That left town board Chairman John Pelletier, who was re-elected in April, as the main proponent of the Sho-Deen plan, but he declined the seat, saying the removal of Malsch and Nowak proved voters did not agree with his vision for the town

The public, having spoken, also needs to remember that development in and of itself isn't a bad thing.

Done right, new development brings with it economic vitality-a vitality needed to solidify the tax base and to provide jobs.

But any developer looking at a project in Walworth County now faces a high degree of uncertainty about possible success.

The biggest frustration that developers cite after seeing their plans washed down the drain is a perceived misunderstanding between what they claim their intentions were, and what the public believed their intentions were.

The same can be said for Mirbeau's proposal for the Yerkes property in Williams Bay.

After three public meetings made it clear there was not public support for Mirbeau's plan for a housing subdivision and resort on the property, owner Gary Dower never submitted a formal plan to the village.

So is there a way that everyone can get something they like out of these deals?

Possibly, but the approach obviously needs to change.

Developers need to be well aware that Walworth County residents aren't passive observers and certainly aren't pushovers when it comes to development projects. Developers, along with politicians and government staff, need to do a better job of anticipating public concerns and quickly addressing them.

Our elected officials need to be better negotiators as well and look out for the concerns of the public as well as providing an opportunity for economic growth. The $3,000-per-acre price for county land in the Intersport deal seemed to be the major sticking point. Could we have worked out a better deal and kept the project moving forward?

The community, having exercised their power of public opinion, now bears the responsibility of fully understanding the issues before them.

We need to continue to encourage economic growth that benefits both the business community and those who live there.

The University of Chicago still plans to sell the Yerkes property, and Sho-Deen has hinted that they'd like to start over with new plans for Walworth County. I'd also venture to guess they won't be growing soybeans on county land in Elkhorn forever either.

Ideally, everyone with a stake in the process can find a way to make it work.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sho-Deen says Jackson Creek development dead

Sho-Deen Construction says it's plans for the Jackson Creek Development in Delavan Township are now "dead."

Following the upheaval in the Delavan Town Board after elections earlier this month, Sho-Deen announced in a news release today that it will wait until the open town board seats are filled before deciding how to proceed.

Voters ousted supervisors Larry Malsch and Dolores Nowak and replaced them with Jim Wolfgram and Kay Franzen, who ran on their opposition to the development. Supervisor Bill Endisch announced at the annual meeting that he will step down Monday, April 30.

That left town board Chairman John Pelletier, who was re-elected in April, as the main proponent of the Sho-Deen plan, but he declined the seat, saying the removal of Malsch and Nowak proved voters did not agree with his vision for the town

Supervisor Wayne Polzin, the only member of the five-member board to survive the election, was appointed the new town chairman.

Wolfgram told Janesville Gazette reporter Anne Marie Ames that he is pleased to see a spirit of cooperation from Sho-Deen.

"It sounds like they are willing to work with the town," Wolfgram was quoted as saying in a story in Monday's Janesville Gazette. "I'm glad they're going to reconsider what they're doing and come back with a plan that's more workable for the town and community."

Friday, April 13, 2007

Two from Town of Delavan board step down

Delavan Town Board Chairman John Pelletier and Supervisor Bill Endisch figure the writing on the wall means it's time for them to move on.

At Tuesday's annual town meeting, residents passed an advisory referendum to replace Pelletier, who has been a supporter of the Sho-Deen residential development in the township.

In a letter to the editor in Sunday's print edition of The Week, Endisch writes that his resignation is effective April 30 and that he and his wife are moving to Whitewater.

In the election two weeks ago, two supervisors who were seen as being in the Sho-Deen camp, Larry Malsch and Dolores Nowak, were defeated by Kay Franzen and Jim Wolfgram.

In a story in last week's Janesville Gazette, reporter Anna Marie Ames quotes Pelletier's letter of resignation.

"They preferred little or no development and strict adherence to current county zoning ordinances and a 12-year-old, outdated rural land use plan," Pelletier wrote. "They would accept loss of town land to annexation if necessary. They want more of what is, not what could be."

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