Hudson School District given 30 days to show options for St. Croix Meadows siteThe School District of Hudson on Thursday night, April 12, asked the city Plan Commission for more time to present its plans for a secondary school on the St. Croix Meadows site, and was granted the request.
By: Randy Hanson, Hudson Star-Observer
The School District of Hudson on Thursday night, April 12, asked the city Plan Commission for more time to present its plans for a secondary school on the St. Croix Meadows site, and was granted the request.
School officials and the attorney representing the owners of the vacant dog track again stated their cases for rezoning the 124-acre property from general business district (B2) to public or quasi-public use (PUB).
They faced what appeared to be a skeptical Plan Commission, with members questioning why other large properties in the community weren’t chosen for the future school.
Commissioners also raised the issues of the loss of commercial development property and tax revenue, and what would happen to the site if the district failed to gain voter approval for construction of a school on it.
Near the close of the two-hour meeting in the council chambers at Hudson City Hall, the commissioners asked questions they said they would like answered at their next meeting with school officials.
The commission voted to postpone the review of the district’s rezoning application for 30 days, or when the district is ready to make its next presentation.
The Plan Commission is chaired by Mayor Alan Burchill. The other members are Fred Yoerg, Paul Radermacher, Mary Claire Potter, Frank Rhoades, Kevin Vance and Alderperson Mary Yacoub. Community Development Director Dennis Darnold serves as secretary and adviser to the commission.
School Superintendent Mary Bowen-Eggebraaten said school officials would come back to the commission with more specific site plans for the St. Croix Meadows property. She also promised to bring maps and details explaining why the district’s County UU land and the county Government Center land aren’t adequate sites for the school the district would like to build.
School officials made notes on the questions the commissioners raised, and said they would address them at the next meeting.
Peter Seguin, the attorney for the partnership that owns the dog track, Croixland Properties, was the first to speak in support of rezoning.
Seguin also called commercial real estate agent David Robson, husband of school board member Lynn Robson, to the podium to comment on the prospects for commercial development of the vacant dog track.
Robson said the property likely wouldn’t be developed for five years, and more likely, for 10 or more years.
He said the relatively low traffic volumes on Carmichael Road at that location make it a poor candidate for retail development.
It would more likely be developed as another business park, Robson said. If the city acted as the developer and used tax increment financing to fund the improvements, tax revenue from the site would be frozen at the current level until the improvements were paid for, he noted.
Robson said the large building on the site also is a roadblock to commercial development of the property. He said Croixland Properties would have to either find a buyer for the building or a developer willing to bear the cost of demolishing it.
Outgoing school board president Barbara Van Loenen and newly reelected board member Brian Bell also spoke for the district.
Bell encouraged the Plan Commission to think about the “huge community asset” that a new high school on the now vacant dog track property would be.
He said school officials would return with plans showing three building options for property.
Bowen-Eggebraaten alluded to the possibility of a city public works/public safety building being constructed on part of the St. Croix Meadows site.
After the presentations by Seguin and the school officials, Burchill invited comments from audience members, limiting their statements to two and a half minutes.
High school teacher Patricia Mueller, Chuck Harris, Kris Tjornehoj, Sarah Cothron and Jamie Johnson supported the rezoning. Gordon Conard was the lone voice against it.
Following the remarks from the public, Burchill asked the members of the Plan Commission for their comments and questions regarding the rezoning application.
Yoerg said the city had decided not to offer a drop-off site for tree leaves this year and reduced the police roster by one officer because of a decline in revenue.
“We project that to continue and get worse,” he said, and asked why the city should bear more of the cost of a new school than the other municipalities in the district.
He said students come from throughout the area municipalities, but the city is always expected to subsidize the schools.
Rhoades wanted to know what would happen with the dog track property if voters rejected a referendum to borrow money to build a new school. Later, Potter asked the same question.
Radermacher pressed for an answer to why the 63 acres of county land on Vine Street wasn’t suitable for a school.
“To me, it seems like that piece of property would fit the school’s space needs,” he said.
“We all believe in quality education,” Radermacher added. “I don’t want the public perception that we don’t believe in public education. It really is an issue of where a school should be built.”
He asked Bowen-Eggebraaten if it was true that the county had offered the land to the district for construction of a school.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said she had been asked by County Administrator Patrick Thompson whether the school district was interested in the land.
The school board, through an evaluation process, ruled it out as a viable site, she said.
The land is low-lying, Bowen-Eggebratten said, and six acres of it would be required for stormwater ponding. Vine Street would need to be widen, too, with a school there — taking additional land, she said.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said the school board has decided that at least 65 acres of buildable land is needed for a new school that would eventually serve 2,000 to 2,500 students.
Asked what the acreage requirement is based on, she referred to guidelines from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
She said River Falls High School is located on 80 acres, and New Richmond High School, on 111 acres. There’s also an elementary school on the New Richmond school grounds.
Yoerg said that Green Bay built a high school for 2,200 students on 27 acres.
Bowen-Eggebraaten replied that different schools have different programs. She said she didn’t know where the Green Bay school’s athletic fields were.
The type of school a community wants is a community decision, she said. It’s possible to build a 10-story school on a small site.
“We can do it. But should we do it?” is the question to ask, she said.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said another school on the Vine Street corridor would result in more than 4,000 students attending school within a one-mile stretch. The result would be even more traffic congestion in an already congested area.
Radermacher remained unconvinced. He referred to a report by Darnold that the St. Croix Meadows property had the potential to generate close to $1.2 million in annual property taxes ($318,000 of which would go to the city) if it was developed for commercial use.
“We could have another Uline show up. Who knows?” he said.
Burchill asked the school district for an analysis comparing the costs of building a school on farmland south of River Crest Elementary School, on the Government Center property and on the St. Croix Meadows property.
Bowen-Eggebraaten agreed to provide the analysis, but said advantages and disadvantages of the three properties should be compared, too.
She warned against choosing a school site that is too small to meet future needs.
The district’s student population projections didn’t take into account a new Stillwater bridge being built, she said.
Yacoub asked what the district would do if St. Croix Meadows isn’t rezoned.
Bowen-Eggebraaten discussed various scenarios that she called “short-term solutions,” including larger class sizes and multi-track, year-round school.
Yacoub then asked if the district didn’t have a Plan B for a school site — such as the farmland south of River Crest or the Government Center property.
Bowen-Eggebraaten said the district would re-examine building a school on the land it owns on County UU.
Potter wondered if the district had done enough study on the St. Croix Meadows property to be sure it is a suitable building site. She said the district could end up with two properties off the tax rolls and without a school on them.
Vance said the removal of commercially zoned property from the city isn’t something that can be done casually.
He said the request is a rare one. Usually, schools are built on bare land.
Vance, who serves on the city’s water utility commission, said he had been advised that there is a way for the city to provide water and sewer service to the County UU site without it being annexed into the city.
Vance, too, said a refusal to rezone the St. Croix Meadows property wouldn’t indicate a lack of support for Hudson’s public schools.
He suggested there are other places where a school could be built.