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Commission recommends annexing former highway property

The Hudson Plan Commission on a 3-2 vote has recommended that the city annex a 12.3-acre parcel between Stageline Road and I-94 at Old Hwy. 35.

Commissioners Donald Gilbert, Tim Caruso and Bob Bieraugel voted to annex the former highway interchange property that the owners want to include in a 32.9-acre commercial development.

Bieraugel, who opposed DaMe Properties' last petition for annexation, said he liked the new plan for a six-lot development, anchored by a hotel and a movie theater complex.

Mayor Jack Breault also voiced support for the plan, although he didn't vote on the issue.

"It seems to be an ideal site for what they are proposing," Breault said. As chairman of the Plan Commission, he casts only tie-breaking votes.

Commissioner Bob Mailloux, who has favored annexing the DaMe site in the past, was absent from the June 22 meeting.

Commissioners Carah Koch and Fred Yoerg opposed adding the land to the city. In a conversation with Bieraugel following the meeting, they indicated they were influenced by a survey of Hudson residents last spring in which the 52 percent of those responding expressed concern about the city's rate of growth.

Matt Frisbie of Frisbie Architects, River Falls, addressed the commission about the latest proposal for the site from DaMe partners Dan Bauer and Jim Meffert.

Frisbie said the partners have letters of intent from a movie theater group and a hotel operator that are planning to build in the development.

The 12.3 acres now in the town of Hudson would be joined to an adjacent 20 acres DaMe Properties owns that is already within the city boundaries.

A conceptual site plan given to members of the Plan Commission showed a 32,000-square-foot cinema complex located on a 7.2-acre lot and a 70,000-square-foot hotel on an 8.9-acre lot.

Frisbie said a furniture store has expressed interest in another of the lots, but the owners don't have firm proposals for the remaining four lots.

The site plan shows an access road into the development from Stageline Road at Old Hwy. 35. The access road would lead to a traffic circle surrounding a retention pond and water feature in the middle of the development.

Frisbie said the developers intend to have an overall theme for the development, tentatively named Stageline Center.

Traffic engineer Jim Benshoof, representing the DaMe partners, said the existing road system is adequate to serve the development with some minor improvements at Stageline and Old 35.

Benshoof said a right-turn lane on County N at the entrance to the development would be needed, along with new pavement markings on Old Hwy. 35.

He said he remained confident that 64 percent of traffic to and from the development would come from the east via County N. About 70 percent of the traffic using Old 35 now comes from the east, he said.

The city's consulting engineering firm, BRA & Associates, had questioned Benshoof's projection in a report to city officials.

So did Yoerg, who contended that most city of Hudson residents would use Stageline Road to get to the development's movie theater and other businesses.

Plan Commission member Donald Gilbert asked Benshoof to find out how much more right of way would be needed to build a traffic roundabout at the Stageline and Old 35 intersection.

Benshoof initially said the amount of traffic at the intersection wouldn't justify the expense of constructing a roundabout. He grew more receptive to the idea, however, when pressed by Gilbert, who noted that a variation of a roundabout is being planned for the traffic circle itself.

The proposed annexation will be considered next by the City Council, which has rejected petitions twice before.

In February 2004, the City Council unanimously rejected annexing the property for development as a resort complex that was to include a water park, hotel, movie theater, restaurants and shops.

Five months later, the council voted 3-2 against annexing the 12.3 acres to be part of a 16-lot commercial development. The council members who voted against the second plan -- Dennis O'Connell, Carah Koch and Scot O'Malley -- didn't like that the developers couldn't say what businesses would build on the site.

Under state law, the city will have to reimburse the town of Hudson for lost property taxes on the undeveloped land for five years if the latest petition for annexation is approved.

City officials have said in the past that the developers would be required to make the tax payments to the town of Hudson.

Survey results

City residents were asked in a survey conducted last spring by the UW-River Falls Survey Research Center whether the amount of development in the city is too great. The reason for the survey was to allow residents and businesses to share opinions about land use issues before the city redrafts its comprehensive plan.

Thirty percent of residents agreed that development in the city is too great, and 22 percent strongly agreed.

Twenty percent of responding households disagreed with the statement that too much development is occurring, and 3 percent strongly disagreed.

Twenty-four percent of respondents were neutral on the development issue.

The business community had a decidedly different view of development. Only 20 percent of business owners or managers agreed or strongly agreed that there is too much development. Fifty-four percent of businesses disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement.

Residents, too, have a more favorable opinion of city expansion when developers are required to pay for the needed street and utility improvements - which is Hudson's policy.

Fifty-two percent of residents supported or strongly supported city expansion when developers paid for the new streets and utilities. Twenty-six percent remained opposed or strongly opposed even with the developers paying the expansion costs.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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