UPDATE: Plan Commission recommends against rezoning for school
School district consultants, school officials and citizens appealed to the Hudson Plan Commission to rezone the former St. Croix Meadows Greyhound Racing Park for use as a secondary school Thursday night.
But they were unable convince the six commission members in attendance, who at the end of the four-hour meeting at Hudson City Hall voted unanimously to recommend that the City Council deny the school district's request.
Paul Radermacher made the motion for the recommendation. He said the loss of approximately $23,000 in annual tax revenue that would result from having the 130-acre site rezoned from a B-2 commercial business district to a public or quasi-public district represented a financial hardship for the city.
Radermacher urged the school board to focus on 110 acres on County UU and Crosby Drive in the town of Hudson that the district already owns as the location for a new school.
Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill, chair of the Plan Commission, and members Kevin Vance and Mary Yacoub also made statement prior to the vote. Commissioner Fred Yoerg said he had made his position clear during the long debate, which began with an hour-and-a-half long presentation by the school district's consultants and school officials.
During a public comment period that lasted two hours or more, both opponents and supporters of the rezoning voiced their questions and arguments.
Plan Commission members also spoke frequently throughout the meeting.
Commissioner Mary Claire Potter was absent.
In his statement prior to the vote, Mayor Burchill said he had recently had lunch with former mayors of Hudson, during which they talked about the dog track issue. He mentioned former mayors Tom Redner and Jack Breault by name, noting that they had been on opposite sides of the issue of whether the dog track should be built back in the early 1990s.
He indicated they were in agreement on keeping the property zoned for commercial use.
According to Burchill, Breault said some people thought it was "crazy" to develop St. Croix Business Park because of its location on the far southeastern side of the city. People said no one would go there, Burchill reported, but the business park is now filled with companies that have brought employment and tax revenue to the city.
He indicated that the St. Croix Meadows property will eventually be developed, too.
"I hate to say it, but it all comes down to money," Burchill said.
The potential loss isn't just the current tax revenue the city gets from the property, he said, but the potential for $566,000 to nearly $1.2 million in annual taxes if the property is developed for industrial or commercial use.
The city's share of that revenue would be around $245,000 to $515,000, according to a projection by Community Development Director Dennis Darnold. The rest of the money would be split between the school district, St. Croix County, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and the state.
During the school district's presentation, District Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said it was former mayor Dean Knudson, now the area's representative to the State Assembly, who first suggested that the school district consider St. Croix Meadows as the site for a secondary school.
Vance said his biggest concern was using a significant amount of the available commercial land in the city for a school. He also questioned whether it was the best site for a school, given its proximity to a limestone quarry and industrial park.
Vance said the current high school is in a "great" location because so many students can walk to it from home.
"The answer to me is there are other locations that are available that would fulfill the needs of the community just as well as this one will," he said.
Yacoub said that, as the mother of three young children, she understands the district's need for a new school. But she couldn't justify reducing the city's tax base when the police department is faced with cuts because of what will be a tight 2013 budget, she indicated.
Earlier in the meeting, Yoerg also indicated that he was concerned about the property coming off the tax roll. He said was a "fairness issue," since the other municipalities the school district serves wouldn't be giving up tax revenue.
Yoerg also faulted the school district for selecting the dog track as a site when officials knew that the city's comprehensive plan showed it as commercial property.
Radermacher read a statement at the start of the meeting saying the 110 acres the district owns on County UU and Crosby Drive is a more suitable location for a school. He said a special water district could be formed to bring utilities to the site.
One of the consultants hired by the school district, Mark Boehlke of Hoffman LLC, strongly disagreed with Radermacher's assessment of the County UU property.
Boehlke said he has been evaluating property for potential school sites for about 30 years.
"Professionally, I would say this is one of the poorest sites that I have seen, if not the poorest," he said of the County UU land.
He said about one-third of the property has slopes too steep for it to be economically or environmentally desirable to build on them. The slopes also isolate parts of the property that suitable for development from other building sites, he said.
In addition, there are possible wetlands and a navigable stream on the land, Boehlke said.
"It's not practical," Boehlke said of building a school for up to 2,500 students on the site.
"Land that looks like this is developed for residential purposes," he said.
Civil engineer Angela Popenhagen of Stevens Engineering said the county highway department had informed her that County UU would need to be widened to five lanes in the area of the potential school. Crosby Drive also likely would need improvements, she said.
Popenhagen said Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources rules wouldn't allow development of an on-site sewage treatment system, and that the property can't be annexed to the city by law because it is not contiguous.
Watch this space for more updates to the report on the Plan Commission meeting.