Hudson school officials present arguments for rezoning dog trackSchool officials and supporters made their case for rezoning the St. Croix Meadows dog track to be the site of an eventual high school in a public hearing Monday night in front of the Hudson City Council.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
School officials and supporters made their case for rezoning the St. Croix Meadows dog track to be the site of an eventual high school in a public hearing Monday night in front of the Hudson City Council.
Opponents of the application to rezone the 124-acre property from general business district (B-2) to public or quasi-public district (PUB) also made their voices heard.
Peter Seguin, the attorney representing the current owner of the dog track, Croixland Properties LP, led off the arguments for rezoning the property.
He said the referendum seeking approval for the school district’s purchase of the property had passed by what could be considered a landslide, 56 percent to 44 percent.
The margin of approval in the city was greater, Seguin added. According to St. Croix County’s unofficial election returns, city voters approved the purchase 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent.
Seguin laid out the legal justification for rezoning. He said courts have decided that “zoning can and should be flexible.”
He said the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that the good of the whole community should be considered in rezoning decisions, and that a school on St. Croix Meadows property would in the public interest.
Other justifications for rezoning, Seguin said, include improvements to the physical environment and economic development. Again, he said construction of a school would serve those purposes.
Seguin said a city’s comprehensive plan is only a guide for development, and subject to change.
Hudson’s comprehensive plan would have to be amended to change the land use designation for the St. Croix Meadows property from general business to institutional in order for the rezoning to take place.
Seguin characterized statements about the potential for private development of the property, and how much it could generate in tax revenue for the city, as pure speculation.
The idea that there is another buyer for the property “is simply not supported by history and the present economy,” he said.
He noted that the property and main building have been vacant since the dog track closed in 2001. It’s no longer possible to bring a casino to the site, he said, and a national marketing campaign had failed to find a buyer for the track.
Seguin said it was former Hudson mayor Dean Knudson, now the area’s representative to state Assembly, who first suggested that Croixland Properties contact the school district about buying the property for a school site.
Seguin said a failure by the city to rezone the property would amount to “a taking of the land,” because the government would be halting a transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer.
Mayor Alan Burchill allowed Seguin and school officials to present their arguments for rezoning at the start of the hearing. Later, supporters and opponents from the public were allowed to speak, alternating between those for and against, and to two minutes each.
A trio of school officials spoke for the rezoning. They included school board vice president Tom Holland, outgoing school board president Barbara Van Loenen and District Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten.
Holland highlighted the things that make the property a good site for a future high school, in school officials’ minds.
He mentioned the dog track’s large parking lot, 90 acres of flat ground, a four-lane divided road leading to the property, traffic ramps, the availability of city water and sewer service, and the repurposing of 90,000 square feet of the existing dog track building.
“There is no other site that offers the same attributes,” Holland said.
He said 497 current Hudson High School students reside south of Interstate 94.
Van Loenen sought to end some of the criticism that the district doesn’t have a plan for the site. She said a high school is the long-term plan for the property.
It could be that the district would start with a smaller school that would be expanded later to a full high school if that is more economically feasible, she said.
Bowen-Eggebraaten allowed that the school’s purchase of the property would result in some initial loss of tax revenue. But she said the revenue would ultimately be replaced as a result of the economic development the school would spur.
Community members Ken Heiser, David Robson, Ruth Misenko, John Knutson, Jim Lutiger and Steve Wilcox, and school board member Dan Tjornehoj, also argued for the rezoning.
Community Development Director Dennis Darnold read a letter in support of the rezoning from the owner of a strip mall on Hanley Road at Carmichael Road. The mall owner said the construction of a high school in the neighborhood would be good for business development there.
Speaking in opposition of the rezoning were Gordon Conard, outgoing St. Croix County Board member Sharon Norton-Bauman, Jeff Tersteeg, Bob Simmond and St. Croix County Board member Steve Hermsen.
Tim Sackett said he spoke as a school bus driver for Safeway Bus Co. He said the city would need to address congestion on Carmichael Road between the freeway and County UU if a high school is built on the dog track.
The arguments against the rezoning concerned the loss of tax revenue and commercial development property, fear of future tax increases and the lack of a specific plan for the future school.
Hudson resident Jeff Tersteeg called attention to a $170,000 decrease in the city's budget between 2011 and 2012. He said public safety services had absorbed 55 percent of the reduction, resulting in the loss of one police officer.
Tersteeg said he was against reducing city property tax revenue when more money is needed for public protection.
School officials said the district needs community input before it can make specific plans for a new school.