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Plan offered for mixed use of St. Croix Meadows dog track

School board and City Council members sat intermixed around the table at Monday night’s meeting, symbolizing the cooperation that at least some of them hope to achieve. Clockwise from the front are school board member Tom Holland, Council President Randy Morrissette II, school board member Carrie Whitacre, Alderperson Mary Yacoub, school board member Lynn Robson, Alderperson Tom McCormick, City Administrator Devin Willi, City Clerk Nancy Korson, Mayor Alan Burchill and School Board President Jamie Johnson.1 / 3
Thirty-three acres of St. Croix Meadows would remain in private ownership and be developed, under the school district’s newest concept plan for use of the vacant 130-acre dog track. The district is proposing to build a three-year high school on 63 acres of the site. (Hudson School District plan) 2 / 3
School board member Bruce Hanson, standing, arrives at the meeting. Seated, from left, are Alderperson Jim Webber, School Board Vice President Brian Bell, Alderperson John Hoggatt and school board member Sandy Gehrke. (Hudson Star-Observer photos by Randy Hanson)3 / 3

A new plan for development of the long-vacant St. Croix Meadows dog track was presented Monday night in a joint meeting of the Hudson City Council and Hudson Board of Education.

Under the new proposal, the school district would purchase roughly 92 acres of the 130-acre site for $4.6 million, and leave 38 acres in private ownership.

The school district hopes to build a new high school for grades 10-12 on 63 acres of the site, while 33 acres would be reserved for commercial and/or residential development.

Twenty of the acres the district would buy has steep slopes and is wooded, and would remain undeveloped.

Two years ago, the school district proposed buying the entire 130 acres for $8.25 million, and possibly later selling 10 or more acres for private development.

District voters approved the purchase in a referendum, but the City Council later denied the rezoning that is needed to build a school on the property.

New school board president Jamie Johnson requested Monday night’s joint meeting at City Hall to bring forward the new plan.

Johnson indicated that the school board’s study of other sites, changes in leadership, ongoing development and statements made by City Council members prior to the spring election prompted the renewed effort to build a school at the dog track.

He said the board has examined potential school sites in the towns of St. Joseph, Troy and Hudson.

“Looking at those other options always brought us back to what looks like the most cost-effective (option),” he said. “And when others began talking about a potential multi-use concept for St. Croix Meadows, this is kind of what spurred the idea of coming up with a different proposal.”

It is a different plan, Johnson said. The amount the district would pay for the school site is significantly less, and more property would remain on the city’s tax roll.

“I think this is an opportunity we have to come together as a community to try to talk about how we can possibly have a win-win solution for where the next high school will be built,” he said in his opening comments.

School Board Vice President Brian Bell, who helped present the plan, said the idea is that the school will spur development next to it, generating just as much or more tax revenue as the vacant dog track now generates.

Johnson said the school would increase the value of the commercial property along Carmichael Road, and accelerate development of it.

The vacant clubhouse building at the dog track is a liability to some developers, he said. But the school district would turn that liability into a positive by incorporating the building in a new school.

Hudson Mayor Alan Burchill wanted more details about how the 33 acres would be developed.

“I have a concern about leaving that land undeveloped,” he said. “I would like to see a plan for the total parcel.”

The mayor said his concern two years ago with the first plan was over the loss of city revenue from taking property off the tax roll.

At that time, Community Development Director Dennis Darnold estimated that the dog track could generate as much as $1.19 million a year in property taxes if it was developed commercially to its full potential.

Light industrial development could generate as much as $566,000 annually in taxes, Darnold reported.

He estimated the lost tax revenue to the school district at $244,000 to $515,000, to the city at $151,000 to $318,000, to the county at $124,000 to $262,000, to the vocational college district at $39,000 to $83,000, and to the state at $5,700 to $12,000.

“I would like to see a plan where (the private acreage) is developed at the same time (as construction of the school), so it isn’t empty for 10 years,” Burchill said. “I’d like to see a developer come in, put his money into it and say I want to develop this.”

Alderperson Mary Yacoub noted an area of wetland running along the south of the property in the initial plan, while some of that area is shown for athletic fields in the latest plan.

She wanted to know if the district could go forward with its plans for a school if the area can’t be used.

Johnson said the school board has learned in its investigation of other properties that what is sometimes rumored to be wetland isn’t. He indicated he is hopeful the area can be used for athletic fields, but added “if it ends up being a block, it ends up being a block.”

Yacoub also expressed skepticism about University of Wisconsin population projections reported by Johnson. They predict a 63.5-percent increase in the population of the city of Hudson over the next 26 years, Johnson said, a 47-percent increase for the town of Hudson, a 40-percent increase for the town of Troy, a 22-percent increase for the town of St. Joseph, and a 14-percent increase for the village of North Hudson.

Yacoub said the current enrollment of the Hudson kindergarten class is 40 percent less what a projection said it would be.

Bell said the 2009 recession affected birth rates, but they have since rebounded.

Alderperson Tom McCormick wanted to know what percentage of high school students live north of Interstate 94, and whether the school district had commissioned a traffic study on the impact a new school would have on Carmichael Road.

School board member Bruce Hanson said an equally pertinent question was how many viable school sites are north of I-94.

School board member Sandy Gehrke, who opposes construction of a school on the dog track site, advocated expansion of the current high school.

City Council members John Hoggatt and Jim Webber indicated support for the school district concept plan.

Hoggatt was the most forceful, pointing out that he was the only alderperson to support the last plan.

“I see this as an opportunity,” Hoggatt said, noting that the dog track has been vacant since 2001. “If it was such a fine piece of property, somebody would have snagged it up already.”

“Do you really not want your high school in Hudson?” he asked.

Alderperson Rich Vanselow and Council President Randy Morrissette II indicated they are open to consideration of the plan.

Vanselow said he is intrigued by the potential for cost savings for city taxpayers, who also fund the schools.

Morrissette thanked the school board for meeting with the council. He said there are still many questions to be answered about traffic and costs, but that he liked the plan.

He encouraged the board to continue to have open communication with the city.

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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